Well, the Canadian division finally had its first cases of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia of the Montreal Canadiens were both placed on the league’s protocol after one can only imagine are positive tests. The two Finnish players skated with their team earlier in the morning and knowing how contagious the virus is, there’s a strong possibility that they could have spread it to other members of the team and that’s why the NHL and the Canadiens aren’t taking any chances by cancelling games. In the meantime, live goes on around the league and so do we.
Let’s all take a break with the ever constant trade deadline talks and focus on something league-wide that will affect hockey as we know it for our favourite NHL teams. The realignment of divisions and the possibility of schedule for the 2021-22 season. The arrival of the Seattle Kraken into the NHL will finally have a balanced number of 16 teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conference or, if the NHL decides to do so, provide four divisions of eight teams.
Here’s what the divisions will likely look like, if the NHL decides to stick with that format. The Arizona Coyotes will pass from the Pacific to the Central, leaving their spot for Seattle.
|Boston Bruins||Carolina Hurricanes|
|Buffalo Sabres||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|Detroit Red Wings||New Jersey Devils|
|Florida Panthers||New York Islanders|
|Montreal Canadiens||New York Rangers|
|Ottawa Senators||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Washington Capitals|
|Arizona Coyotes||Anaheim Ducks|
|Chicago Blackhawks||Calgary Flames|
|Colorado Avalanche||Edmonton Oilers|
|Dallas Stars||Los Angeles Kings|
|Minnesota Wild||San Jose Sharks|
|Nashville Predators||Seattle Kraken|
|St. Louis Blues||Vancouver Canucks|
|Winnipeg Jets||Vegas Golden Knights|
A couple of years ago, the NHL had decided to ensure that each team faces each other at least twice in a season. After all, everyone wanted to see the Connor McDavids, Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins of the league. I personally like that too as I get to go watch the Habs in Vancouver once a year. With 32 teams however, it’s a bit more difficult to do. So here are two options if the league decided to keep the regular season’s games within the same Conference.
CONFERENCE ONLY SCHEDULE
With the following three options, teams would not be facing the other Conference during the regular season. They could then decide at what point in the playoffs they criss-cross. Such formats would cut on travel, but would prevent fans from seing the leagues’ top players aside from on TV.
1 – Option A: No Divisions
With this option, teams would play their entire season within the Conference evenly, either five (5) or six (6) times each. Forget divisions, teams would be ranked from one to 16 and the top eight would make the playoffs. Hopefully, the league would then go 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6 and 4 vs 5 in those playoffs.
Total Games: 75 GP if 5 times, 90 GP if 6 times
2 – Option B: With Divisions
Here, teams play all seven (7) other teams in the Division seven (7) or eight (8) times each (49 GP or 56 GP). They also play the other eight (8) teams in the same Conference (other Division) four (4) times (32 GP).
Total Games: 81 GP if 7 times, 88 GP if 8 times
3 – Option C: With Division, more balanced Conference
Teams would play all seven (7) other teams in the Division six (6) times (42 GP). They would also play the other eight (8) teams in the same Conference (other Division) five (5) times (40 GP)
Total Games: 82 GP
This season has opened our eyes to a few things. For example, Marc Bergevin recently mentioned liking the mini-series against teams when visiting Cities, cutting down a bit on travel. I have to admit that I like it too, although it should be limited to two games, in my humble opinion. And with the proposed schedule formats below, you will notice that it will be impossible to do for the most part if the NHL insists on every teams playing each other during the regular season.
4 – Option D: Four Divisions – League balance
Each team would be playing all seven (7) other teams in the Division four (4) times (28 GP). They would complete their schedule by playing the other 24 teams twice each, once at home and once on the road (48 GP).
Total Games: 76 GP
5 – Option E: Two Conferences – No Divisions
Play the 15 other teams in the Conference three (3) times each (45 GP), then play the 16 teams in the other Conference twice each, once at home and once on the road (32 GP).
Total Games: 77 GP
6 – Option F: Four Divisions – Two Conferences
A bit more complex, teams play the other seven (7) teams in their Division four (4) times (28 GP). They would also play the other eight (8) teams in your Conference three (3) times (24 GP) and the 16 teams in the other Conference twice, once at home and once on the road (32 GP).
Total Games: 84 GP
Believe me, there are other options as well but the six mentioned above make for more balanced schedules, more evenly distributed, trying not to give some teams an advantage over the others by facing a weaker or stronger team more often than their opponents. It will be interesting to see what the NHL decides, as some of those options would require changes in the number of games played. When doing that, they will need the NHLPA to get on board. Further, trying to do that with a flat cap for a few years should make for an interesting dynamic. Which option do YOU like best? Or do you have another brilliant idea that this old mind didn’t consider?
On a side note, the NHL has announced some changes to the Draft lottery. Much, much needed I’d say.