Is the NHL season going to split into American and Canadian divisions?

The NHL had a very successful Stanley Cup playoffs and Stanley Cup final series in August and September. Now, with the league in its offseason, the NHL hopes to return to play after Christmas. 

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

Unfortunately, questions still surround the NHL’s 2021 start and it looks more likely restrictions on the season will occur due to the current COVID-19 pandemic than previously hoped or expected.

The NHL wants to have a “normal” season, at least as normal as possible. The problem is, there is little chance of a normal season taking place. The league used a bubble system to finish out 2019-20, but using the bubble system is not an option this time around. So, what will the NHL season look like?

NHL Canadian Division

Due to restrictions on crossing the United States-Canada border, the NHL is likely to be split into different divisions, including an all-Canadian group.

The idea coming out of pro hockey circles is that all seven Canadian NHL teams (Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators) would compete in one division. The NHL would then split all the American teams, 24 in total, into three divisions of eight.

To prevent players, coaches, and others involved with the NHL contracting the virus, teams would play regional rivals and each division would be set up with regional rivals competing against each other. Think of it as similar to Major League Baseball’s 60-game regular season in 2020 when teams played against their divisional rivals and direct divisional interleague rivals.

With the NHL not likely to begin until January, it is likely the ice hockey league would play a shortened campaign. Check out TSN’s look at redrawing the divisions based on city proximity for more information on the divisions.

Financial issues

Re-organizing the league’s divisions are not the only issue the NHL has. According to reports, the NHL is experiencing a similar issue as MLB. Negotiations with the players union have not gone well.

“The players have made concessions and already know their contracts for this season are only going to pay 72% of what they signed for.” Therefore, financial issues are once again affecting the NHL.

The good news for hockey fans is that the league and players union have not reached the levels of anger MLB’s groups did last summer. A deal over the collective bargaining extension could be reached.

AHL set a target date to begin the season

While the NHL is looking at the logistics of their season amid the pandemic, the AHL (the primary minor league hockey league for NHL teams) has set a target date to begin their 2020-21 season.

February 5th is now the target start date for the AHL. The league had eyed early December, but that date is now pushed back two months. Hockey fans can follow the ECHL minor league beginning in December.

Of course, the February 5th target date is based on the COVID-19 pandemic being under control. Unfortunately, countries around the globe have been hoping to get the pandemic under control for the last six months-plus.

A number of NHL clubs have sent minor league prospects to Europe to play on loan. Nearly every team has sent a prospect to Europe to get ice time.

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