And the National Hockey League keeps working on getting the 2020-21 season underway in January as commissioner Gary Bettman revealed on Tuesday that the league is working on plans to temporarily realign for this season that would include one division for the seven teams from Canada.
Bettman explained on the air of The Maccabi USA Sports Show that the realignment would likely be necessary because of travel restrictions between the United States and Canada aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19.
It had been rumoured for weeks now, especially with tight restrictions between the borders still strongly in place, that a realignment of four potential divisions, one in Canada and three in the States, would have to be done. Bettman finally confirmed that the NHL is working hard at putting together these new divisions.
“There are a lot of things we have to do to return to play,” Commissioner Bettman said. “For us to return to play, we’re not going to play 82 games, obviously, and we have travel issues because of the restrictions at the border between Canada and the U.S. You can’t go back and forth, so we’re actually going to have to realign.
“If everything stays the way it is, we’re probably going to have to have a Canadian division and realign in the U.S., and we’re trying to focus on dealing with all of those challenges.”
While the NHL might be trying to get teams realigned for 2020-21, any changes to the divisions will need to be approved by the NHL Board of Governors. An all-Canadian division would include the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets. The 24 U.S.-based teams will likely be separated into three divisions, with eight teams in each.
For the past weeks, several different options have been suggested by insiders and pundits. The latest proposal and rumours came from insider Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic and TSN who suggested a few changes to what was first believed to be the probable realignment:
Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals
Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning
Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights
However, LeBrun has heard this changes were possible:
“I checked with a source today who suggested still not a firm decision on exactly how those U.S. divisions will look like. There are some swing teams that you can put in a couple of different divisions. You know, Pittsburgh (Penguins) could be in the Central or in the East (division) with the rival (Philadelphia) Flyers. The Penguins would rather be east. Minnesota (Wild), St. Louis (Blues) and Dallas (Stars) all central time zone teams that could be in the West (division) or it could be in the Central (division) that still has to be resolved where all those teams end up.”
For now, there is still a lot on Bettman’s plate, who while he is encouraged by the new developments in negotiations with the NHLPA, knows there is more work to get done.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Commissioner Bettman said. “There’s much to be determined.”
The fact that the NHL won’t have a choice but to realign divines for the upcoming campaign might help them make a decision on the Seattle Kraken. The expansion club begin play as the League’s 32nd team in 2021-22 and will join the Pacific Division and the Arizona Coyotes will shift to the Central Division, which previously had seven teams.