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Bettman Says NHL Will Look At More Permanent Canadian Realignment

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is aware of how much fans love the Canadian division and they will look at more permanent options.

Most hockey fans are loving the new North Division and the Canadian rivalries that are coming out of the NHL’s new realignment for the 2020-21 season. Most hockey fans also know this is just a temporary solution until travel can resume as normal and fans come return to the building in all cities.

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That said, there’s a huge call for the NHL to consider making this all-Canadian division — or at least elements of it — a permanent thing. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic is noting in a recent article the idea is not entirely out of the question.

While LeBrun maintains that a permanent realignment is unlikely, he did quote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who said:

“We recognize that, under the circumstances, this season’s divisional alignment has generated a great deal of interest and excitement. We will evaluate the experience and try to determine what we might apply going forward.”

In other words, Bettman has noticed how much the fans are loving this new division. He’s open to seeing if there’s a feasible way the NHL can bring hockey fans North of the border more of it. So too, the networks are loving this. “And I would venture to guess the NHL commissioner will be hearing from Sportsnet and TSN at the end of the season about the success that it was,” notes the NHL insider.

As LeBrun rightfully points out, “Travel reasons alone would probably sink that idea.” It’s going to cost a ton to repeatedly send teams from the west in British Columbia to the east in Ontario. LeBrun also notes he could see a scenario where, “the NHL looks to provide more all-Canadian matchups within the matrix of a more unbalanced schedule.”

For the most part, GMs and executives of Canadian teams seem to be on board with taking a closer look at how to get more of the rivalries fans love so much. A number of those executives talked about the excitement that comes from watching these teams go at each other 9 or 10 times. When they meet in the playoffs, the intensity will be at an all time high. But, as Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said over the weekend, “Still, it probably makes sense to wait until the season is over and weigh the pros with the cons before making a final judgement.”

Toronto Maple Leafs NHL
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL

The Idea of Multiple Games Against the Same Team Is Catching On

One of the things that seems to be gaining favor as the NHL discusses how to move forward is the idea that teams might play each other over the course of multiple games on the same road trip. A series of games against the same teams seems to be pretty well received by the players.

Many have said how much they like the idea of having to travel a little less in the same stop. The trick would be how to work that in over the course of an 82-game season.

There is a Down Side

One of the drawbacks to the idea is that there are also a number of Canadian and U.S.-based rivalries in the NHL that fans are not getting. One is the Boston Bruins vs. the Montreal Canadiens. A future one might be the Vancouver Canucks vs. the Seattle Kraken.

Boston Bruins NHL
Boston Bruins NHL

At the same time, these U.S.-based markets aren’t getting to see players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, while Canadian fans don’t get to watch Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. That, obviously, is not ideal.

Again, when things get back to normal, the NHL probably won’t move to a situation where Canadian teams are playing more of each other than the typical division matchups provide. That said, the fact they are even looking and haven’t rule it out completely is a nice plus.

This season hasn’t been one the NHL wants to see again, but there certainly are some lessons to be learned and some positives to take from it.

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