NHL considers a Canadian Division for the 2020/21 season
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NHL considers a Canadian Division for the 2020/21 season

Over the years, there has been much dispute over the distance players have to travel over the typical 82-game season, but the current climate has escalated things. The NHL is proposing a four-division league, adding an all-Canadian division.

Here’s our understanding of how things would look now:

  • Canadian Division: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
  • Pacific: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minnesota, San Jose, and St. Louis.
  • Central: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, and Tampa Bay.
  • Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, the Islanders, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington.

This is our interpretation of how things may pan out if the realignment was to go ahead. As it stands the NHL season is due to begin on January 13th, so if the changes are to be implemented things need to move quickly. While this is true, strategically it shouldn’t be too complex for the organizers to figure out how they’ll how and where they’ll host the games within each division.

Will there be a Canadian Division?

Our friends at Bodog have created odds for it.

Yes There Will be a Canadian Divison
No There Won't be a Canadian Division

Why is it changing?

The bottom line is, like with everything else, COVID-19 was the catalyst for change. The Canadian-US border is an issue in itself. Leading up to the new NHL season the border has been closed for months, which has posed a real problem for the NHL schedulers. Given the situation, the NHL has no choice but to look to put all seven Canadian teams in one division, where they’ll play a shortened 56-game schedule.

This helps to minimize travel issues for teams in Canada, but the US was still a strategic nightmare. The most convenient way to break down the remaining 24 teams was to divide them geographically, which is what we see above.

League Reference Widget

How will this affect the league?

Well, the structure of the league will be mostly the same, but the groupings will affect the balance of each division. The central group looks to be quite weak. Defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa are the obvious favourites to win the group, but when you consider challengers it doesn’t look great. The way the Pacific division might line up looks very interesting, with St. Louis, Vegas, and the Avalanche in together.

Once the Canadian teams are removed from the regular division alignments, the balance is lost. If we take a look at the Northeast group, it will be the most fiercely contested of them all. A group stacked with top teams, battling it out over 56 games will be a very interesting watch - although, maybe not something for the long term. We look forward to seeing how it manages to make it to the postseason from this division of death.

What does this mean for the 2020/21 season and beyond?

As it stands, it looks like the teams will probably play within their divisions for the duration of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. The likely point of contention for the teams who are clear playoff candidates will be that these teams are less likely to make it to the offseason if they’re playing in a division stacked with top-tier teams.

Regardless of that, there’s little the NHL can do. The new divisions could make for a more competitive regular season, although this won’t be favourable for everyone. The hope is that the COVID-19 situation will calm down and we’ll be back to something vaguely reminiscent of what hockey used to look like by the time the playoffs come around.

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