For the past two seasons, the NHL was seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. From March to August 2020, Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league’s Board of Governors voted to put the season on pause and resumed in mid-summer in the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton. The following season began with strict protocols in place. The schedule was shortened to 56 games from the usual 82, and teams were split into regional divisions to limit travel. This meant that teams could only play those in their division, which resulted in either nine or ten matchups against each opponent. The Montréal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, one set of hockey’s “forever rivals,” played each other a total of 10 times last season, including another seven in the playoffs.
This upcoming season, the Canadiens will open up on Oct. 13 against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. While normally that would be an intriguing matchup (and still is), the league missed an opportunity to schedule an opener where the two teams would play somebody they haven’t gotten a chance to play in two years.
Canadiens Could’ve Opened Against Another Major Rival
This article is not attempting to say that Canadiens-Maple Leafs games aren’t exciting and that they shouldn’t be considered marquee matchups. After all, who can forget the seven-game dogfight from last season’s playoffs? The one where a Leafs team that seemed destined to dispel the curse of being unable to get past the first round ultimately crumbled in seven games to a Canadiens team on their way to the Stanley Cup Final? An absolutely amazing series, but, again, the deciding game was the 17th time the Habs and Leafs played against each other. Even the most ardent supporters may have been getting sick of the same opposition at that point.
Rather than attempting to deviate from what has become predictable in the era of COVID-19, the NHL instead chose to schedule Canadiens versus Maple Leafs as one of the season’s opening matchups. The league could’ve changed things up for the beginning of this season, having the Canadiens play another one of their Original Six rivals. The Boston Bruins would’ve been a fantastic choice. Not only would it serve to restart the traditional matchups made stagnant by the pandemic, but it would have avoided repeat Canadiens-Leafs for what essentially amounts to the 18th time in nine months. After all, the Stanley Cup Final (where the Canadiens last played a non-Canadian team) seems like eons ago. Does anyone even remember it happened?
Habs Deserve a Home Game to Open Up the 2021-22 Campaign
The NHL seems to really love Toronto. The Maple Leafs seemingly get a home game to open up what seems like every season. Over the past six seasons, the Maple Leafs have begun the season at Scotiabank Arena all but once, when they traveled to Winnipeg for a game against the Jets in 2017-18. The 2021-22 season will continue this trend when the puck drops on Oct.13. For a team like the Canadiens, this might seem slightly unfair. The team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993 and only played one home game in that Final is forced once again to begin the season away from the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens’ opponent in the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning, get to play at home to start the season. Maybe it’s because of the banner raising or because Amalie Arena will operate at full capacity. But one thing is certain, and it’s that Canadiens fans deserve to see their boys in Montréal in the first game of the season.
Last season’s result has entrenched the Canadiens as one of the league’s best teams, and the plethora of new signings will have the fans clamouring to see what they can do. The best Canadiens’ team in a generation deserves a proper welcome home to start 2021-22. Their home opener is something to behold even without the fact that they’re defending Stanley Cup finalists. The combination of the pageantry and the team’s potential after an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final has created an excitement that fans in Montréal will unfortunately have to wait for.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.