With Covid-19 cases rising rapidly across the United States, and the uncertainty of what the next few months will bring, it is looking more and more likely that the NHL will temporarily realign for the 2020-21 season and create an all-Canadian division. It’s a good idea in theory, but let’s take a closer look to see if it is something that will actually work or benefit the league for the upcoming season.
Travel Restrictions, An Obvious Reason for an All-Canadian Division
Right now, the US-Canadian Border is closed to All Non-essential travel, meaning that teams from the United States most likely wouldn’t be able to travel to Canada to play and vice versa. By creating an All-Canadian Division, it would eliminate the need to cross the border, therefore eliminating the need to place the league in a bubble.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said: “We’re not going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th parallel…” Like no other league in sports, the NHL has more Canadian-based franchises. This is one area where the NHL can’t follow the lead of brands like the NBA or MLB. The simple solution is creating an All-Canadian Division, thus eliminating the need for the mandatory 14-day quarantine period that teams faced during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The NHL has talked of creating “hubs” for the upcoming season, but that is something most players say they’d prefer not to go through again if it can be avoided.
What About Inside Each Country?
Unfortunately, creating an All-Canadian Division might not solve all of the league’s problems. It helps alleviate some of the pressure back and forth between the US and Canada, but what about within each country?
It’s not just the issue of going between Canada and the United States that the NHL might have to contend with. Bettman also noted:
So we have to look at alternative ways to play, while crossing the US-Canadian border is an issue, we’re also seeing within the United States limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states.”
In some cases, the United States currently require people traveling from other states to quarantine anywhere from 3-14 days upon entry. For example, the state that I live in has banned all indoor sporting events until further notice, so the team (in this case, the Blackhawks), would have to find a different place to play their games.
Much like the Toronto Raptors of the NBA — who will be playing their games in Tampa Bay Florida because the Canadian government won’t sign off on them playing in Toronto — teams down south may have issues playing each other. They will be subject to each individual State’s quarantine rules and other restrictions.
Unfortunately, it appears as though some parts of Canada might not be too far behind. Ontario premier Doug Ford announced that he would be locking down Toronto for 28 days. This includes restrictive measures on all indoor gatherings including shops, restaurants and other businesses. Considering training camps were expected to start within that 28 day time frame, there is uncertainty surrounding what all that means.
What Is The Best Option For The NHL?
Right now it is virtually impossible to say which is the best option for the league going into the 2020-21 season, and only time will tell what is the best and safest option for playing an NHL season during a global pandemic. An all-Canadian Division seems like a no-brainer but there’s still a lot of issues that need addressing.
With the season projected to begin on or around January 1st, the league is running out of time to make decisions about whether to proceed as usual or to divide the teams up into regional divisions. The general idea is to cut down on the amount of travel between different cities and states. Let’s just hope that travel in general doesn’t become an issue.
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