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Predicting how the NHL playoffs would look with an all-Canadian division

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is wide speculation that when the NHL does return for the 2020-21 season, it will be in a dramatically different form than in years past.

In the Return-to-Plan (RTP) that happened a few months ago to award the Stanley Cup, teams, most of whom are based in the United States, were temporarily relocated to two central Canadian hubs, Toronto and Edmonton.

This was to navigate restrictive quarantine requirements set forth by the Canadian federal government, and simply to mitigate the risks associated with travelling and community mingling amidst the global pandemic.

The Stanley Cup was handed out to the Tampa Bay Lightning on September 28th, and while the NHL still has its sights on a start date for the next season in January 2021, the pandemic is very much still a part of our lives, and is not showing any signs of going away.

If there are still restrictions on traveling between Canada and the USA come time for the NHL to resume, there is a very real possibility that the current divisional alignment is thrown out the window, and a temporary new alignment is put in place. One of the leading theories for this realignment is the introduction of an all-Canadian division where the seven Canadian based franchises would play all their games.

WHat would NHL realignment look like?

If we assume that one division would contain the seven Canadian teams, that leaves 24 American teams to realign. Based on geography, it seems to make sense to organize these 24 teams into four groups. Here’s how the NHL could be broken up.

Pacific Division

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Arizona Coyotes
  3. Colorado Avalanche
  4. Los Angeles Kings
  5. San Jose Sharks
  6. Vegas Golden Knights

The new-look Pacific Division would retain the Ducks, Coyotes, Kings, Sharks, and Golden Knights; lose the Canucks, Oilers, and Flames; and add the Avalanche. The only real change to this division is the addition of the Avalanche, which stretches the division into the central United States. Still, the longest travel would be from Denver to San Jose, which is only a 2.5 hour trip.

Southeast Division

  1. Carolina Hurricanes
  2. Dallas Stars
  3. Florida Panthers
  4. Nashville Predators
  5. St. Louis Blues
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning

The new Southeast Division would include teams from the current Atlantic and Central divisions. This is a blend of Eastern and Western conference teams, but is necessary to maintain a small travel area for teams. The NHL used to have a Southeast Division that once included the Lightning, Panthers, Hurricanes, Capitals, and Thrashers, but the NHL realigned the year after the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg.

Great Lakes Division

  1. Buffalo Sabres
  2. Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Minnesota Wild
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins

The new Great Lakes Division (thank you to Travis Yost @travisyost for the excellent and apt name) includes teams from the current Metropolitan, Atlantic, and Central divisions. Another split of Eastern and Western conference teams, all the teams in this division are in states that border a great lake. One downside is that the battle of Pennsylvania is abolished, but this makes the most sense geographically.

Metropolitan Division

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. New Jersey Devils
  3. New York Islanders
  4. New York Rangers
  5. Philadelphia Flyers
  6. Washington Capitals

The new-look Metropolitan Division would retain the Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, and Capitals; lose the Penguins and Hurricanes; and add the Bruins. This division stays relatively untouched, and is easily the most travel friendly division in the hypothetical realigned NHL. The longest flight is between Boston and Washington which is under 1.5 hours.

Canada Division

  1. Calgary Flames
  2. Edmonton Oilers
  3. Montreal Canadiens
  4. Ottawa Senators
  5. Toronto Maple Leafs
  6. Vancouver Canucks
  7. Winnipeg Jets

And finally, the Canada Division would include all seven Canadian teams from coast to (almost) coast. This is easily the most travel heavy division, the flight from Montreal to Vancouver being the longest at almost 5.5 hours.

How would the NHL structure the playoffs?

The playoff structure would also need to be dramatically changed, but perhaps not with a play in round like we saw this year in the RTP.

If we assume that teams will only play games within their own divisions, every division needs to have a somewhat equal contribution to the postseason. The NHL will almost certainly want to maintain the long standing history of a 16 team playoff bracket, so 16 teams must make the playoffs split fairly evenly amongst the new five divisions.

The only way this would make reasonable sense is if 12 teams from the four American divisions and four teams from the Canada division advanced to the playoffs. This means that out of the six teams in each of the Pacific, Southeast, Metropolitan, and Great Lakes divisions, the top three would advance. This is a rate of 50%, slightly lower than the 52% overall that will make the playoffs.

That leaves four of the seven Canadian teams to complete the list of teams competing in the Round of 16. That is a rate of around 57%, just over the current 52% mark.

Predicting the playoff teams

Because the league is so dramatically restructured, some divisions are notably stronger than others, at least when looking at how they performed last season.

Pacific Division

In the Pacific, the Golden Knights and Avalanche are virtual locks to make the playoffs. After that, the Pacific leaves a lot to be desired with only one other 2020 playoff team in the mix. It doesn’t look to be a very strong division, and after the two surefire playoff teams, it looks like it will be a battle between the Coyotes and Sharks.

Right now, we’d give the edge to the Sharks, simply because the Coyotes lost their most lethal weapon in Taylor Hall and didn’t really fill that role with anyone comparable. The Sharks will likely see comeback seasons from Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, and made a needed switch in goal from Martin Jones to Devan Dubnyk.

  1. x-Vegas Golden Knights
  2. x-Colorado Avalanche
  3. x-San Jose Sharks
  4. Arizona Coyotes
  5. Anaheim Ducks
  6. Los Angeles Kings

Southeast Division

The Southeast division is one of the strongest new divisions. The defending champion Lightning are joined by four other 2020 playoff teams in the Hurricanes, Stars, Blues, and Predators. It looks like the Panthers would be the last place team in this very difficult division, but even they could make some noise if Sergei Bobrovsky rebounds next season.

The Lightning and Hurricanes are likely the top two teams, but after that it could be a dog fight between the former Central division rivals. Because of how they did in the playoffs, we’ll give the edge to the Stars for the final playoff spot, but the Predators and especially the Blues will not make it easy.

  1. x-Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. x-Carolina Hurricanes
  3. x-Dallas Stars
  4. St. Louis Blues
  5. Nashville Predators
  6. Florida Panthers

Great Lakes Division

The Great Lakes Division looks like the weakest of all five new divisions. Four teams made the playoffs last year, but the apparent favourite in the division is the Penguins, a team that got bounced in the qualifying round.

After the Penguins, the Wild are probably the best team, and then the Blue Jackets and Sabres will be fighting for the last playoff spot. The Sabres added some nice pieces this offseason in Hall and Eric Staal, but they’re very unproven and don’t have the postseason track record the Blue Jackets do. Right now, we would give the edge to Columbus.

  1. x-Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. x-Minnesota Wild
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets
  4. Buffalo Sabres
  5. Chicago Blackhawks
  6. Detroit Red Wings

Metropolitan Division

The Metropolitan division is very much the inverse of the Great Lakes. Five of the six teams made the playoffs last season, four played in the first round, and three of the four teams that featured in the Eastern Conference semifinals are in this division. It’s a little crazy.

This will most definitely be a very tight division. The Bruins are the early favourite being the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, but after that your guess is as good as ours. We chose the Flyers and Capitals to round out the top three, but the Rangers and Islanders can’t be discounted. Outside of the Devils, it’s realistic to expect any combination of the remaining teams in the top three.

  1. x-Boston Bruins
  2. x-Philadelphia Flyers
  3. x-Washington Capitals
  4. New York Rangers
  5. New York Islanders
  6. New Jersey Devils

Canada Division

The Canada Division is in the middle of the pack in terms of depth. The Maple Leafs are the early favourites to win the division, and moving out of the division that had the Bruins and Lightning is definitely a positive for them. After Toronto, the two Alberta teams will probably duke it out for second place, with the Canadiens, Canucks, and Jets fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot.

We gave the edge to the Candiens because of how dangerous Carey Price can be in a shortened season, and because of progression from their young forwards. The Canucks will also see progression from their young guns, but saw significant departures in the offseason that have yet to be filled. The Jets are in a similar boat in the sense that they have not addressed their biggest question marks last season which were on the blueline.

  1. x-Toronto Maple Leafs
  2. x-Edmonton Oilers
  3. x-Calgary Flames
  4. x-Montreal Canadiens
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Winnipeg Jets
  7. Ottawa Senators

Time will tell

It is not yet clear what format the NHL will return with when the 2020-21 season gets underway, but there’s a good chance of temporary realignment at least until the restrictions due to the pandemic are in place.

What do you think of the new divisions and playoff predictions? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

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