The Tampa Bay Lightning ended an unprecedented NHL season full of modifications and adjustments forced by the COVID-19 pandemic in July by hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second straight year.
They'll go for the three-peat in a 2021-22 campaign that sees the league revert to its normal alignment but features big changes on the ice for a dozen teams -- as well as the addition of an entirely new team.
If you haven't kept up with the NHL in the past few months, don't fret, we've got you covered. Here's a chance to catch up on everything that has happened -- the hirings, firings, trades and signings, plus a huge amount of off-ice drama. It's all in our guide to the 2021-22 season for lapsed fans. Read up before the puck drops!
Back to normal
After last season's pandemic-impacted season -- 56 games, realigned divisions and intradivision schedules to reduce cost and health risks -- the NHL returns with a full 82-game schedule in 2021-22. It's also reverting back to the wild-card playoff format that has been in place since 2014, after the top four teams in each division advanced to the postseason in 2020-21. The division lineups are the same as they were in 2019-20, save for one change: With the expansion Seattle Kraken coming into the Pacific Division, the Arizona Coyotes relocated.
(They relocated to the Central Division. Not, like, out of Arizona. Although the Coyotes are being evicted from their arena by the city of Glendale at the end of this season, they full intend on staying in the desert.)
The NHL is headed back outdoors this season, too. The 2022 Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild will be held on Jan. 1 at Target Field in Minneapolis. The Stadium Series will visit the home of the Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium, on Feb. 26, for a game between the Nashville Predators and the Lightning. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will play in the Heritage Classic on March 13 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.