Since 2020, the Dallas Stars and the NHL have seen just about every hockey setting possible. The 2020 season was paused when COVID-19 shut down most of the world and hockey has not yet returned to what it once was.
We saw a playoff bubble, empty arenas, games played at neutral sites, a shortened season, and much more since March of 2020. The Dallas Stars have arguably been struck with the mountains of adversity more than most in that time and are hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. The question remains, will we return to normalcy when the 2021-2022 season kicks off in October?
What will the 2021-2022 NHL season look like?
The NHL has done a wonderful job dealing with everything that has been thrown at them over the past year and a half. They found a way to crown a champion in 2020 and finish the fully planned 56-game season in 2021. This did not come easy and they had to roll with every punch that came their way in our changing world.
Since the beginning of this season, things have changed drastically. Fans began trickling into arenas once again even if the capacity limits were low, teams were traveling to play road games even if it was only against teams within their division, and the entire league was not forced to stay inside a bubble for the duration of the season.
All of these were welcome sights for players, coaches, and fans. While it was not perfect by any means, the league strived to take a step forward each and every day.
The first sign of big news for next season came when the NHL announced that they planned on a full 82-game regular season in 2021-2022. Commissioner Gary Bettman set a target start date of October 12th, 2021 which is only a few days later than a normal season would begin.
The announcement also included that the league would return to their normal divisions after shuffling them around during the 2021 season. While it was fun for fans to see new teams more often, most are eager to get back to playing their division rivals along with seeing the rest of the clubs around the NHL.
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As we sit here in early June in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, hope is on the rise. While certain clubs slowly ramped up their capacity during the season, most arenas are now closing in on full attendance during the playoffs.
Canadian teams remain behind on this and only recently allowed access to a small number of fans after playing the entire regular season in empty buildings. Canada also recently announced that NHL teams will be allowed to travel across the border in order to complete the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was getting a bit too close for comfort for everyone as the Stanley Cup Semifinals are only a few days away but it comes as a huge relief for everyone involved.
For the Dallas Stars in particular, fans were forced to watch one of the greatest playoff runs in franchise history, from home. As the Stars battled their way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, they did so in an empty arena nearly 2,000 miles away from the American Airlines Center. While it is a run that nobody will ever forget, how great would their brightest moments have been in front of 20,000 Stars fans?
The roar of the crowd, the waving of the playoff towels, the general warmth and closeness that we have missed so dearly, is finally here, or at least nearby. COVID vaccines have been rolling out as fast as mask mandates disappear and that light at the end of the tunnel seems oh so close.
Looking to next season, it is likely that the NHL will begin as it has for so many seasons before. Full arenas, a full travel schedule, old divisions we have grown to love (Arizona will move to the Central as Seattle joins the Pacific), and little to no extra distractions.
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We should see minimal numbers of COVID shutdowns, protocol lists, postponed games, and the rest of the craziness that 2020 and 2021 brought to us. For the first time in three seasons, we should regain normalcy. That is music to the ears of anybody around the sport and a welcome sight for all of those involved in the NHL.
While there is no guarantee of any of this and COVID could rear its ugly head just as quickly as it fades, there is hope. Isn’t that all anyone can ask for?