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Lightning Round: New Possible 2021 NHL Divisions

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If the border stays closed, who are the Tampa Bay Lightning going to play?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes
RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 07: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricananes and Ryan Malone #12 of the Tampa Bay Lightning mix it up in the crease at the RBC Center on October 7, 2011 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Vegas Golden Knight owner Bill Foley may have let it slip that the NHL is planning to make a temporary change to the four divisions for next season in order to work around the closed border between the United States and Canada. The plan is for a fully Canadian division, with all seven teams around the country to play each other.

Further speculation suggests that the three AHL affiliates of Canadian teams in the US (Utica, Stockton, and Bakersfield) will be moved up to Canada and play in their NHL arenas. This will make call ups easier and will be part of mimicking the NHL’s divisions in the AHL.

This is all a result of the NHL needing to create a season without a bubble. The league needs fans in the arena, even at lesser capacity in order to make a reasonable amount of revenue. As an aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more alternative jerseys in order to increase that revenue stream.

But getting back to the NHL divisions, what will the Canadian Division look like and what will it mean for the rest of the league? I’ve made a guess, let me know how off I am!

Canadian Division

The seven Canadian teams all hate each other’s guts. They all want to be Canada’s favourite team, and they all hate each other, but mostly Toronto. No visa troubles. There will be a lot of travel and a change of timezones, but I’m sure they’ll get over it.

Pacific Division

Most of the Pacific is still here, except the three bitter rivals in Colorado, Minnesota, and Dallas join the group. Added bonus that Vegas, Colorado, and Dallas can all reunite from their Western Conference sprint to the Finals. They’re all mostly in the same time zone, the ones in the MT timezone usually play games at 8pm for the 7pm PT audience anyway. Minnesota in the Central will be the biggest issue but I couldn’t split them up from Colorado, they seriously hate each other.

Central Division

I’ve always wanted reunite Chicago and Detroit, an original Central Divisional rival, always on NBC on Sunday afternoons. Columbus was over there back in the day too. Nashville and St. Louis have become good rivals of Chicago too. The NHL will obviously be thinking about their wallets so getting as many rivalries together is important. Carolina, Florida, and Tampa can join the group as a former South East trio of enemies. Combining the Midwest and Southeast together seems the most logical.

Metro Division

All of these teams are in the Northeast area, and while we lose somewhat closeby cities in Carolina and Columbus from the group, Buffalo and Boston really didn’t have anywhere else to go. These teams can all travel by bus together, AHL style, no one’s more than a few hours from each other.

While I expect the Canadian Division to be completely locked off from the rest of the league, it might not be the case within the USA. Surely teams will be able to intermingle between divisions and play each other, at least a few times. It all depends on the COVID-19 risk and how things will have to work if, and possibly when, players and teams get infected with the virus. If the league wants to isolate each division from each other so that if they catch a spread within one division, it doesn’t spread to the rest of the league. Siloing teams into smaller and smaller groups is the recommended method that travelling sports have implemented to varying degrees of success. In Formula 1, for example, within the large bubble, each team is isolated from each other, and different departments of each team (engineers, drivers, tacticians, pr) are siloed into separate groups.

And then the question of transactions comes up. What if a player gets traded? Waived? Logically, they would probably have to isolate and get special permission to cross the border before joining their next team. That lag will be important to manage.

In the ECHL, they have created a schedule that starts in December with confirmed dates for about a month. Presumably there will be a pause in order to provide a buffer zone for postponed games and keep games as far apart as possible in order to catch outbreaks. Tracey has been on top of this story all offseason and will have a post this morning to go over it in more detail. Obviously the NHL will be keeping tabs on this plan and will see what they can learn.

Personally, I still think two five-game series against each divisional rival (one home and one away) that takes place every two weeks gets a 70-game season done in about 14 or so weeks (two on, two off).

Feel free to call me, Gary.

Other North American Leagues

Justin covered the Lightning’s prospects who are actually playing games yesterday. He did great work and I would like to extend and look at the leagues that are running or starting up, particularly the ones in North America.

The QMJHL in Quebec started their season in October, but as Canada hit their second wave, a lot of teams have been forced to shut down again as they’ve been put under a red zone of spread. Atlantic Canada is still going mostly normally, but from the outside it really looks like things are falling apart.

The OHL and WHL both plan to start following the World Juniors Championship in late-December, early-January in Edmonton. Like the ECHL, they’ll likely have games on the weekends with travel. A wrinkle to this plan is that the kids playing are all going to school as well. Whether they’ll get to do it virtually or not is still up in the air.

University Sports in Canada is not going to run in any form, including hockey, until at least March 2021.

The USHL will start a 24-week regular season of 56 game starting in November. The 14 teams will travel to each other’s arenas. This plan also includes a preseason that starts this weekend. Games will be twice a week from Thursday to Sunday.

The NCAA is trying for a November start, but it doesn’t look likely.

It goes without saying, but the more I researched about these different programs, the more suspect I became that they’ll work in a safe and feasible manner. Especially the QMJHL, USHL, and NCAA. We don’t have the OHL and WHL plans so I guess that’s why they’re excluded.

Lightning Links

Once again, let’s remember how quickly this can spread, especially in a hockey rink.

Alex Killorn having some steak and soup out of the Cup!

Some signings:

Evgeni Dadonov signed a three-year, $5 million AAV contract.

Alexander Georgiev signed a two-year extension, negating arbitration.

Anthony DeAngelo signed a two-year deal, also avoiding arbitration. He had the highest on-ice shooting percentage in the league, so this contract will definitely go well. He is a very mediocre defenseman who can’t defend.

Mike Hoffman has still not signed a contract and is getting desperate. You may or may not remember the scandal that got him kicked out of Ottawa...

Matt Martin is attempting to convince Lou Lamoriello he is high in demand.