NHL hockey differs from other major professional sports because it has both solid US-based teams and solid Canadian-based teams. The NBA has a single Canadian team. MLB has a single Canadian team. The NFL has no Canadian-based teams. Just hockey.
That’s the way it’s always been since the Original 6 – teams in Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto. Currently, seven of the NHL’s 31 teams are based in Canada, which leaves 24 based in the United States.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but let’s think hard about the situation we are in. I mean really hard. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically how it’s been handled – or not handled – in the United States, is there even a small chance that the NHL can have a season even close to normal?
The answer is No. It cannot. Right now and into the 2021 calendar year, there’s no way that US teams will be able to cross the Canadian border to play hockey games. That means Canadian teams must play in Canada, and US teams must play in the United States. It cannot happen otherwise.
However, given all that gloom and doom, is it possible to have a 2020-21 NHL season of any sort? I think the answer is Yes.
But the change is going to be radical.
Here’s the deal.
COVID-19 Is a Deadly Virus
The simplest way to say it is that COVID-19 is killing people – thousands of people each day. That’s true everywhere in the world, but it’s more true in the United States than it is in Canada or in any country anywhere. Nowhere is safe, but some places are really unsafe – and the United States is one of those places.
Choices made by the current political leadership within the United States have made the situation worse by denying or minimizing the threat of the virus and by failing to at least attempt to control the virus’ spread.
And, the correlation is direct. COVID-19 is the single biggest issue that’s stopping NHL hockey from being played. And, the political situation in the United States is the single biggest reason that COVID-19 is so virulent in the United States. COVID-19 is dangerous in Canada, too. However, the situation is neither being ignored nor minimized.
The Political Situation As It Impacts the COVID-19 Pandemic
Political leadership in the United States impacts the spread of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the COVID-19 pandemic is the only issue that shapes the NHL’s decisions about playing hockey or not playing hockey.
In the United States, the current leader dismisses COVID-19 as a problem even suggesting that the US is “turning the corner.” At the same time, CNN News reports that today set a record for the largest number of cases recorded in the country – ever.
Yesterday was a record; today was a new record; and, tomorrow? Every day gets worse.
On the other hand, there is a presidential election in five days, If the opposing candidate to the current leader were elected, the United States would – soon – engage in a radically different COVID-19 response. However, unless something drastic happens, “soon” that might not be until January 20, 2021. That’s when a new leader would take charge – unless, as I say, something drastic happens.
However, from a hockey perspective in the United States, either outcome would likely mean NHL hockey wouldn’t be played until well into 2021. A new leader would tighten up society to slow the pandemic before things would be re-opened. The fight against the virus would begin more aggressively.
These political realities impact NHL decisions about what a 2020-21 season looks like. The bottom line, as I see it, is that there’s not a chance NHL hockey teams could cross the Canada/US border to play each other.
If hockey is to be played, the NHL would have to reorganize itself for it to ever happen.
A Proposed Division of the NHL for 2020-21
I propose that the only way there will be NHL hockey in 2020-21 would be if the United States teams were separated from the Canadian teams. The US teams would play only in the United States, and the Canadian teams would play only in Canada.
Without much consideration, allow me to offer one possible organization. There might be three US divisions of eight teams each – East, Central, and West; and, the could be a Canadian division of seven teams.
US East Division: Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils
US Central Division: Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators
US West Division: Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights
Canadian Division: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks
Each division could send its two best teams to a shortened bubble, where there would be three rounds with the third round being the Stanley Cup. Obviously, there’s more to consider; however, this is the only starting place I see.
The Lack of a US Response to COVID-19 Has Made Regular NHL Hockey Impossible for 2020-21
From my vantage point, the political situation in the United States makes cross-border play impossible now and into the foreseeable future. Right now, the Canadian government – for every good reason and as a matter of national security – isn’t allowing visitors from the United States into the country unless these visitors quarantine for two weeks. That means no US-based teams can face Canadian-based teams.
Currently, from what I read, the NHL is trying to put off a decision for as long as it can. They’re concerned about ensuring that fans can attend games inside arenas. Is that even possible?
But there’s a more fundamental question. That is, “How can the NHL create a season where teams can even play each other – fans or not?
That’s where I think we are with the possibility of a 2020-21 NHL season. As I say, it’s a radical solution; however, it’s the only one I can think of at this time.
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