Sharks’ 2020-21 Success Depends Greatly on Final Realignment Plan

While the National Hockey League tries to salvage a successful 2021 season, the league is promoting a realignment of its current divisions. The realignment’s main purpose is to cut down travel for all teams, and, most notably, ceasing travel between the United States/Canada border. As both sides have their pandemic struggles, it is likely that the border will remain closed, which would pose an issue for a multinational division. Though the division realignment landscape is ever-changing, it is time to speculate what the potential new division looks like for the San Jose Sharks.

Proposed New Divisions

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released on Tuesday, Dec. 8 the main reasoning behind the new divisions, and confirmed everyone’s speculations. “We have travel issues because of the restrictions at the border between Canada and the (United States). You can’t go back and forth, so we’re actually going to have to realign.” Following the statement, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported the current alignment could look like this:

Since the release of these new divisions, there has been much debate surrounding Minnesota and St. Louis. The Wild have been told that they may be back in the new Pacific/West division. Further on, I will explain what this switch could mean for our beloved Sharks. However, in the meantime, the Central Division will be battling with five of the last six Stanley Cup Champions, posing a large threat for the other teams in that division. As for the Canadian Division, Vancouver to Montreal is a five-hour flight and lands in a three-hour time difference. Not exactly a short and simple getaway. 

St. Louis Blues in the New Pacific Division

Though recently there has been speculation of Minnesota playing in the Sharks division, the first proposed option had the Blues fighting it out in the Pacific/West Division. This would be difficult for the Sharks. It is already fairly certain that the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche will effectively conquer the rest of the teams.

They have consistently proven to be stronger and continuously played at their best last season. Though Dallas will have to repeatedly prove themselves and show spectators that missing Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop doesn’t hinder their play, they did make the Stanley Cup Final last season and are expected to be at the top of this division as well. 

Alex Pietrangelo St. Louis Blues 2019 Stanley Cup
Alex Pietrangelo, former St. Louis Blue (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Adding the Blues into the division would create a large gap between the top-four teams and the bottom-four teams. It would be a significant surprise if one of Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles or San Jose overtook one of the top-four teams. 

Minnesota Wild in the New Pacific Division

Minnesota entering the division bodes well for the Sharks. On paper last year, the Wild was a better team, however, the Sharks were lacking in many areas and have since improved on these vulnerabilities. The Wild may work hard and play well defensively but overall, there is not a lot of excitement on their roster, not to mention a good way to light a fire for new goalie Devan Dubnyk.

He came directly from Minnesota after playing for them for six seasons. The Wild entering the new Pacific/West division is an exciting switch for a Sharks fan. Any of the bottom five teams (Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Minnesota or San Jose) can feel as though they have a good chance to fight for the last spot in the playoffs. 

Minnesota Wild's Devan Dubnyk
Former Minnesota Wild Devan Dubnyk (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

The league can justify this change because geographically, the Wild are fractionally closer to the other West Coast teams. However, it is likely to be due to the league attempting to add division balance. If the Blues play in Tampa Bay’s division, it will make the playoff races more interesting. St. Louis is a stronger team, which adds to the competition of the other division as well. The Blues playing in the West would essentially make it a foregone conclusion of who would make the playoffs.

Related: Dubnyk Helps the Sharks Goaltending

If you erase last year’s debacle, in the 2018-19 season, the Sharks had just over 100 points and were one of the top teams in the West. It is likely that last season, between injuries, goaltending struggles and roster changes, they fell behind. However, this year they are looking to come back for their previous record. Therefore, the new division (with the inclusion of the Wild over the Blues) is shaping up to be a challenge, but not one they cannot overcome. 

That being said, nothing is certain in the current hockey world and updates for the reformed 2021 season are constant, keeping everybody on their toes. 

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