If you thought the 2020 edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was played under the oddest of circumstances, just wait until you see what may be in store for the upcoming regular season.
Put aside what you’re used to when watching a traditional NHL season unfold because amid the COVID-19 pandemic, realignment changes may be necessary.
A seven team group: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal一The Canadian Division.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has acknowledged the potential format change for the upcoming season, and knows that under these circumstances, nothing can be ruled out.
“One possibility is to create a competition in the league among the Canadian clubs,” said Daly on November 2 in an interview with ESPN.
First, it was the MLB that had to navigate around the US-Canada border restrictions, as evident with the Toronto Blue Jays having to play their home games in Buffalo for the 2020 campaign. Now, it’s the NBA’s turn to think of a home-game contingency plan for the Raptors.
On deck一the NHL.
But it’s not just one team that the league has to work with. Instead, it’s seven.
The idea of a “Canadian Division” is becoming more and more likely if the NHL wants to follow up on the plan for an early-January start time for the 2020-2021 season. For hockey fans south of the border, it could come across as a radical alignment that has no place in the structure of the league going forward. For Canadian hockey fans, it could feel just right.
The debate of which NHL franchise is most likely to bring the Stanley Cup north of the border has loomed between Canadian fan bases for the better part of the 21st century. After all, it has been since 1993 when a team based north of the 49th parallel did it一the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s that very discussion that has fuelled rivalries between Canadian franchises, no matter where in the country they are located.
The intrigue of the potential division comes from not only the built-in rivalries between all seven franchises, but the optimism that has been seen on the ice in recent times. Six of the seven Canadian teams were invited to participate in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, with the exception of the Senators. But even with Ottawa, better days seem to be on the horizon after a productive draft and busy offseason from the team’s brass.
At face value, isolating all seven Canadian teams from the rest of the league seems like a desperate attempt to save the season. But on the contrary, the potential division could provide the NHL with a much-needed rivalry-induced product.
The unique nature of a division that covers an entire country would be one of the main selling points for any casual viewer of the sport during the 2020-2021 regular season, even in the U.S. More games that involve the Maple Leafs-Canadiens and Flames-Oilers is a win for hockey fans everywhere.
The pair of games listed above only begins to scratch the surface of the on-ice storylines that can come out of the upcoming season if the Canadian Division does in fact come to fruition.
As opposed to taking the stance that acting on necessary change is a hurdle that the NHL will have to overcome, it should be viewed as an opportunity for the league to ensure that not only their players are safe, but the product on the ice is as good as ever.