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All-Canadian Division and a Sensical NHL Season Format for 2020/21

Will the NHL have four, five or eight divisions for the 2020-21 regular season?

This past week shed more light on what the 2020-21 (most likely exclusively 2021) NHL regular season might look like. Considering the Canadian/American border situation and accompanying two-week quarantine protocols, along with growing Covid numbers, it seems unlikely those protocols would relax anytime soon. As such, hockey fans and pundits alike have recently speculated how an all-Canadian division might turn out.

Related: Which NHL Team Would Take Top Spot In An All Canadian Division?

We’ve looked at teams that might come out on top in an all-Canadian Division and where clubs might rank based on their offseason moves, but perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at how an all-Canadian Division would affect the rest of the league or the teams themselves in terms of the overall NHL standings.

Key Details About NHL’s Division Debate

It’s one thing to talk about what the teams in Canada will do, but what about the rest of the league? Well, the Score’s Josh Wegman released an excellent article outlining three options on how the entire NHL might look after a temporary realignment. That article can be found here. Before turning to Wegman’s three options, here are some of the key details for the regular season:

  • a tentative start date of January 1st, 2021
  • minimum 48 games
  • playoffs will conclude prior to July

According to Wegman’s math, that might also mean a 48-game schedule is the maximum numbers of games that could be played.

Four, Five or Eight Divisions

The three options outlined by the Score are as follows: four divisions geographically grouped as the East, South Central, West, and Canada. The second option would be five divisions organized as the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, Pacific and Canada. Lastly, a three conference – eight division – system that would go as follows:

Eastern Conference – Northeast, Metropolitan, and Southeast Divisions

Western Conference – Central, Midwest, Pacific

Canadian Conference – Canada East, Canada West

Depending on the option, the amount of games against divisional or conference opponents will change accordingly – anywhere from six to 12 times in some cases. The latter amount of divisional games, 12, would happen in the three conference, eight division option. That seems like an awful lot of saturation, but the rivalries might be enticing!

Disadvantages for the Canadian Division

Realistically, a four or five division format seems more reasonable. However, depending on the number of divisions it is guaranteed that teams on one side of the border will be at a disadvantage. For example, a five-division format would mean four Canadian teams miss the playoffs while the remaining divisions would only exclude three teams. Not sure how that would sit with fervent Canadian fans after 27 years of not having the Stanley Cup north of the 49th parallel.

Tampa Bay Lightning win Stanley Cup
Tampa Bay Lightning win Stanley Cup

However, with four divisions only three Canadian teams would miss out on the playoffs, but the other three divisions would have four teams that miss. While that would make Canadian fans happy it also seems unfair to the 24 stateside teams.

No matter what option the eventual format eventually best resembles, there is one last consideration for an all-Canadian division. While the U.S.-based teams will all generally be in the same, or within one other time zone, the Canadian division will span across four. That will impact TV schedules and the start time of games that feature Eastern time zone teams playing in Vancouver or vice versa. Perhaps more importantly, that will create a more intense travel schedule for Canadian teams. Even with a shorter schedule, the travel toll could be a detriment for Canadian teams in the post season.

There is no easy decision regarding an NHL format, but it is undoubtedly exciting to think of the possibilities given the times.

NEXT: Canadian-Based Backup Goalies Will Be Keys to 2020-21 Team Success

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