NHL hockey sticks and puck

Your Guide To Watching the NHL in 2021–22

It’s been three months since Andrei Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos and the rest of the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup after soundly defeating the Montreal Canadians to secure a second consecutive National Hockey League championship. 

Now the NHL is back, and the League expects to return to normalcy during the 2021–22 season after the pandemic forced it to push back the start of last season three months and play a condensed schedule. 

Barring unforeseen problems, regular-season action is expected to begin October 12, when the Lightning raise their championship banner at Amalie Arena in Tampa before facing off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 pm EST. The League’s opening night doubleheader will also include the first-ever regular season game for the expansion Seattle Kraken, who play the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas at 10 pm EST. 

Most NHL teams are easing restrictions and allowing for a full capacity of fans in the stands. However, for those who prefer following the road to the Stanley Cup in the comfort of their own homes, there are many viewing options—whether through your TV provider or streaming. 

How can I best watch NHL?

Hockey fans will experience big changes in how to watch games. For the first time in 16 years, NBC and subsidiaries like NBC Sports won’t be carrying games. ESPN and Turner Sports will begin sharing national broadcast production duties. 

Twenty-five nationally televised regular season games will air exclusively on ESPN or fellow Walt Disney Television–owned ABC, including opening night and the All-Star Game. ESPN is also producing 75 games to be streamed on subscription services ESPN+ and Hulu. Turner will produce 72 games to be aired on TNT and TBS. Both ESPN and Turner will share playoff coverage, which will run until June 2022. 

While fans can still follow their favorite local teams through their TV providers on regional networks, they’ll need an ESPN+ premium subscription for access to out-of-market contests. You can also watch ESPN+ on your smartphone or TV device via the ESPN app. NHL.tv is no longer an option in the United States for streaming games. 

How will the pandemic affect the NHL this season? 

The NHL expects 30 of the 32 teams to open arenas at full capacity for the 2021–22 season, with the Montreal Canadians and Vancouver Canucks being the two exceptions, according to ESPN.com.

Ten of the League’s teams are only allowing vaccinated fans to attend games, including the Canadians, Canucks and New York Rangers. Eight others, including the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, will allow either a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination for fans to enter. ESPN, citing an internal NHL memo, also reported that 21 teams will implement a mandatory face mask rule for all fans and 4 more will require masks for fans age 12 and under. 

Fully-vaccinated players will be able to travel and work out without having to follow most pandemic protocols. Unvaccinated players without an exemption who test positive will face suspension and lost salary for time missed. 

The League is also returning to its full 82-game regular season schedule, which concludes April 29, 2022. Last season, NHL teams played a 56-game intra-divisional slate of regular season games following a temporary realignment to cut back on travel. 

The Arizona Coyotes will be moving to the Central Division to make room for the expansion Kraken in the Pacific Division. 

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What are some key NHL storylines to monitor? 

1. The Lightning vying to win three straight championships

Not since the Islanders won four straight Cups in the early 1980s has a club been this equipped to “three-peat.” Vegas bookmakers have the team among its favorites to win this season, but it could be difficult for lightning to strike three times, as the team over the summer was forced to part with Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and other key players.

2. The Olympics

The League will be taking a break from February 3–22 to allow players to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, but that could change should pandemic conditions change. All-Star weekend in Las Vegas will still happen February 4–5. NHL Olympians attending will leave immediately following the festivities. 

3. The Seattle Kraken

How good will the expansion Kraken be? The Golden Knights really set the bar high in 2017–18 when they made the Stanley Cup Finals during their inaugural season.

The Kraken participated in an expansion draft to fill their roster with players left unprotected by the League’s other clubs, using the same rules the Golden Knights used to their benefit when entering the NHL in 2017. The Golden Knights used these rules to their advantage to be competitive out of the gate. They convinced other teams to give up future draft picks and other assets in trades to ensure these existing teams didn’t lose key players through the expansion draft. 

The NHL’s other owners apparently learned their lesson, as no trades were made on the Kraken’s draft day. 

“I think last time GMs were more willing to overpay to protect certain assets,” Kraken General Manager Ron Francis told NHL.com. “This time they learned from that, and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes they made last time.”

Program availability may have changed and is subject to change. Streaming services may require a subscription and sometimes an additional fee.

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