The NHL has agreed to a January 13 start for a 56-game game schedule. In addition, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and protocols for such, the divisions will have a new, albeit temporary look.
There will be all-Canada division with the other divisions realigned geographically. This is due to the travel restrictions across the U.S-Canada border. Certain teams will benefit from this change, while others will be hindered. Every regular season game and the first couple rounds of the playoffs will be played within the division. The breakdown of the divisions are as follows:
The North division is all the Canadian teams which are the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets. Heading to the United States, in the West Division there are the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche. Moreover, those teams complete the division: Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights.
Moving east to the Central division are the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets. To complete the division there are Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lighting. Finally, in the East division there will be the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils. The following teams complete the division: New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
The first obvious winners of the realignment is the East division. Travel time will be minimal with six of the eight teams in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, with the other two teams in the vicinity in the nation’s capital and Massachusetts. The rivalries will remain intact.
In addition, the Canadian rivalries of Montreal and Toronto and Edmonton and Calgary will also be intact. An old, traditional rivalry will heat up again with Chicago and Detroit in the same division for the first time since 2012. In addition, fans will have the treat of watching the two Stanley Cup Finals contenders from last season, the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning square off eight times this season.
Perhaps the biggest team winner is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won’t have to deal with the Bruins this season. From a fan’s perspective, those in Canada will be happy knowing at least one team will advance as far as the third round of the playoffs.
While some rivalries have been maintained, others particularly between Canadiens and United States teams will be lost this season. The long-time showdowns between the Bruins and Canadiens and the Maples Leafs and Sabres will not happen unless they meet deep in the post season. In addition, the Penguins cannot be thrilled to have to play the Bruins regularly as well as Philadelphia and Washington. That could make Pittsburgh struggle to make the playoffs.
All told, the realignment was very much expected due to the circumstances everyone is dealing with. Perhaps this isn’t ideal, but to ensure the safest way to complete an NHL season, it’s a solution the NHL and its fans must deal with. Here’s hoping everything is back to normal for the 2021-2022 season.