From Oh, Canada to California Dreamin', next year's NHL schedule looks a lot different for the Winnipeg Jets.
After spending the previous campaign playing entirely north of the border due to the global pandemic, life is set to return to normal for the local hockey team. That means going back to the Central Division and a full 82-game calendar in which they face all 31 rivals at least twice.
It all begins for the Jets on Oct. 14 when they open the 2021-22 campaign in Anaheim against the Ducks. That's part of a three-game road trip which includes stops in San Jose and Minnesota.
Winnipeg will play its home-opener at the newly-renamed Canada Life Centre on Oct. 21 against the very same Ducks. At this point, the hope is it can be business as usual and a sold-out crowd will be able to watch the action unfold. No fans were allowed in the building for the 28 home games last season, and only 500 fully-vaccinated health-care workers were let in for playoff games.
Winnipeg will face the NHL's newest team, the expansion Seattle Kraken, for the first time at Climate Pledge Arena on Dec. 9, then roll out the welcome mat for the first of two visits on Jan. 8.
The longest homestand is a seven-game stint starting at the beginning of November. The longest road trip is five games beginning in late January, although that is actually spread out over an entire month. That's because all teams will take a three-week pause beginning Feb. 2 for the All-Star game and Winter Olympics break, as long as NHL participation in the event is officially confirmed in the coming weeks.
"It’s interesting. It’s a period of time where you have a big break. Going back to when we had the Olympics before, it was an interesting time for everybody not to have games in your market place for an extended period of time," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Thursday.
"The good thing for us is we’ll have Moose hockey playing during that time and a great opportunity for some people to keep their hockey fix, so to speak, going while the potential Olympics would be going on. It compresses things in a certain manner when you have those certain things. We’ve just gone through a really compressed schedule, but it does get you back to a little bit more to the traditional time when you can have off days and the like."
The final night of the season is Apr. 29, with playoffs running through May and June.
Under this year's scheduling matrix, Winnipeg will play a home-and-home against the 16 Eastern Conference teams, for a total of 32 games. They'll play 26 times against their seven division rivals, which now includes Arizona, meaning three or four dates against every opponent. And they will play every Pacific Division team three times, for a total of 24 games.
Add it all up and they only play Canadian teams 15 times, after seeing them on 56 regular-season occasions last year. Seven of those are at home, with only Edmonton coming to town twice. Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa pay one visit each.
The Jets play 11 sets of back-to-back games, with nine of those happening on the road and two in Winnipeg. January and March are the busiest months, with 15 games each, while Tuesday is the busiest night on the schedule with 17 dates during the season.
"Of course it’s not perfect, there are always things that you would have liked to change. The NHL does their very best to listen to everybody’s problems, so to speak," said Cheveldayoff.
There had been talk about the NHL maintaining mini-series going forward, in which teams would play more than once in a certain city like they did this past year. But that ultimately didn't come to fruition.
"I think from a hockey standpoint the coaches liked it, the players had some time for it. Obviously it does get old in some respects when you have to do an entire season of it. I know that there was maybe a small appetite to have maybe a little bit more of a trial in that situation, but the schedule makers were under a real tough type of situation here," said Cheveldayoff.
"It was a lot easier I think, I may be putting words in their mouths, but it was a lot easier when we were in a COVID situation and there were no building issues at the time. I think now you’ve got teams that have multiple tenants, you’ve got concerts and all the wonderful things that we’ve missed over this period of time. I think that all came into play when they tried to put it in practical use."
Start times and television broadcast schedules will be released shortly. TSN remains the local television rightsholder, with Rogers Sportsnet being the national partner. Every game will be carried locally on Global News Radio 680 CJOB (CJOB AM) and simulcast on Power 97.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.