The NHL has been discussing how they are going to move forward after a successful playoff bubble experience. They’ve discussed a shortened season, which is almost a guarantee. They’ve also discussed temporary hub cities. They’ve hinted at temporarily changing up the divisions for geographical reasons.
Due to the pandemic, the border procedures have put a wrinkle in the situation for the NHL as the league has seven Canadian teams to think about. With Canadian borders being closed to the United States, the NHL has to come up with a way to be able to have all teams participate in a fair and safe manner for the 2020-21 season. This will be difficult but the first step in the process that league officials are looking towards is a full Canadian Division.
An all-Canadian division will largely impact the Florida Panthers and their season. Especially if the NHL stays true to its word and realigns divisions based on geographic location. With seven Canadian teams in the league, that takes some teams out of the Atlantic division. Taking a look at the league, that leaves the Canadian Division with the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers, the Montreal Canadians, the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Winnipeg Jets.
Now, this is where things could get a little dicey. I’d imagine that with all of the Eastern Conference markets in the league, they would have the Canadian division in the Western Conference. But do not sleep on this division, I see six out of seven of these teams that can fight for a playoff spot with that top spot being a complete toss-up. This will be a very exciting division to watch throughout the season if the NHL decides to take this route.
So how will the realignment fair out? If we’re to believe that the NHL is realigning strictly by geographical location, there are two ways that I could see this going. The Southeast-Central division and the Northeast-Atlantic division. The Southeast-Central division would look like this: Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Panthers, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Washington Capitals.
This would make for a very tough division as all of these teams have playoff aspirations. The Capitals, Blues, and Lightning would most likely be the top tier teams in this division and would be the favorites to win. But the other five teams all believe themselves to be playoff teams as well. The Blackhawks are probably at the bottom tier but they still have the top-end talent to sneak into a wild card spot if they defend well enough.
The rest of the teams in this division are too close in talent. You might as well throw all the names in a hat and pick two for the playoffs. Who would’ve thought that maybe the bubble playoff format is the best way to go? 12 teams with an eight-team play-in round. Seemed to work well this year.
I still think the Panthers could snag a wild card spot. But this would make for a very tough race down the stretch and there would be absolutely no room for error during the course of the season. One bad stretch and you’re done! As I always like to say “you can’t win a playoff spot at the beginning of the season, but you can certainly lose one.”
This would leave the Northeast-Atlantic division with the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. The ultimate rival-dogs division. All of these teams hate each other and it would be some fun hockey to watch. Let’s just make this a permanent division.
It would certainly be interesting to see how this one would turn out and watch these teams beat each other up all season. You’d have to imagine the Bruins would be the favorite. The Flyers and Penguins wouldn’t be too far behind them in the Vegas odds as well. But I could see the Islanders and Rangers giving these teams a good fight to beat them out. And who knows if this is the year Buffalo figures it out with Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall leading the charge for them.
Lastly, we have the Pacific-Central division. This would be the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights. The Avs and Golden Knights are the clear-cut favorites in this division with the Coyotes, Stars, and Wild fighting for the third and wildcard spots with LA and Anaheim being in transition periods for their organizations.
This realignment could see some crazy wild card races at the end of the season, especially for the Eastern Conference. Either way, the 2020-21 season is going to be one of the most entertaining seasons we’ve seen in a long time!