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What the Blackhawks’ 2021 NHL schedule might look like

The NHL reportedly has a 60-game, all-division schedule in place. In it, the Hawks and Red Wings would be reunited as division rivals.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings could be reunited in the same division in 2021.
AP Photos

New Year’s Day — the target starting date for the 2021 NHL season — is only six weeks away.

So why don’t we have any official information about what the season will look like yet?

Financial disagreements between the NHL Players’ Association and team owners appear to be the primary holdup. With that said, however, the league reportedly does have a rough schedule in place and largely ready to go once the other issues are smoothed out.

It might be a 60-game schedule made up entirely of intradivision games, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Thursday.

Allowing some leeway to make up games postponed because of inevitable COVID-19 cases, the regular season would last about four months. The playoffs would begin around May 15 and end around July 15 — in time for NBC to switch its coverage to the Summer Olympics, which begin July 23.

Because of the Canadian border remaining essentially closed to the United States, the NHL would shuffle its divisions to put all seven Canadian teams together, then divide up the 24 U.S. teams into three divisions of eight each.

The divisions might end up looking like this, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reported:

Canada: Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Jets, Flames, Oilers and Canucks.

East: Bruins, Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Capitals and Hurricanes.

Central: Blackhawks, Panthers, Lightning, Predators, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Red Wings and Blues.

West: Wild, Avalanche, Stars, Coyotes, Golden Knights, Kings, Ducks and Sharks.

Another version of the alignment put the Hurricanes and/or Wild in the Central, with the Penguins moving to the East and the Blues to the West.

Regardless, it seems as though the Hawks and Wings will be reunited as division foes for 2021 — an exciting development for fans who have missed the heated rivalry since the Wings moved to the Eastern Conference in 2013. Both teams’ on-ice performances have declined greatly since then, but the emotions have not.

And with an all-divisional schedule, the Hawks would be seeing the Wings — and the six other Central teams — eight or nine times each.

The NHL is expected to use baseball-like ‘‘series’’ during the regular season. It remains unclear whether that will be two-game series in back-to-back formats or three-game series over four- or five-day spans.

Either way, it should cut down significantly on travel costs and coronavirus exposure, limiting teams to 10 to 15 hotel stays all season.

Before the schedule can be unveiled, however, the NHL and its players must sort out a complicated argument about salary escrow — in simple terms, salary withheld by the league — and deferral, Friedman reported.

Owners say the financial fallout of the pandemic requires a higher escrow percentage this year and in the years to come. Players think a concession they made over the summer should suffice.