With NHL season talks stalled, pondering this potential division alignment
Here we are at U.S. Thanksgiving.
Normally, this is when we size up the standings and assess each club's playoff chances. This year, we've got a 31-team tie at zero. And still no indication of when the new season will start.
With barely a month left in 2020, the Jan. 1 start date is looking less and less likely with every passing day — especially since the word is that talks between the NHL and the players have essentially broken off after the league floated its request for more financial concessions.
Even if the money don't work for the owners under the current terms, we've heard that Gary Bettman wants to have a season. I suspect it's also important for the league to mount games in order to burn off the last year of that U.S. TV contract with NBC and sign a new deal — perhaps with multiple outlets — which will open the monetary faucet wider and get a new revenue stream pouring into that hockey-related-revenue bucket.
So I can understand why the players have taken a 'hard no' stance in the idea of renegotiating a deal that was signed just a few months ago. And — no small thing — I can also understand why it's tough to carve out a season plan right now, with the virus raging as it is on both sides of the border.
I'm sure you've heard that Hockey Canada's World Jr. selection camp in Red Deer is now in pretty much a worst-case scenario, with the entire roster in quarantine for 14 days.
Ryan Rishaug is reporting that workouts and meetings are being held by Zoom — but I'd presume that players won't be able to get into the gym, get treatment, or get on the ice. Very hard to prepare for a tournament under those circumstances.
And as Chris Peters points out, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. Players from nine other countries need to convene in Edmonton in just a few weeks' time. At this point, it's far from assured that everyone is going to get into that bubble safely.
Let's suspend disbelief for a minute and operate on the assumption that the NHL does find a way to go ahead with its season — even if the start date ends up being closer to Feb. 1 and the schedule compresses to, maybe, 48 games. That's gotta be the minimum, right?
Last week, Greg Wyshynski of ESPN posted a rumoured divisional alignment, structured around the idea that teams would play multiple-game series in their home buildings.
Of course, we've already thought long and hard about what a Canadian Division would look like. But the groupings of the 24 U.S.-based teams are pretty interesting — and maybe not entirely what you'd expect.
Probably the most fascinating detail: Pittsburgh landing in the Central Division. Can you imagine a full NHL season with no games between Sid and Ovi, and no Penguins/Flyers contests? That's kinda crazy.
Also crazy — the travel discrepancies, especially between the East Division and the Canadian Division.
I write a weekly piece about the Flyers for a website called Full Press Hockey.
In this week's story, I looked at the Flyers' travel situation based on this structure. Within their division, they'd swap out trips to Pittsburgh and Columbus for Boston and Buffalo, which is pretty much a wash. That would leave Raleigh, about 400 miles away, as their most remote opponent — and they wouldn't have to do any longer flights at all to places like Florida, California or Western Canada.
"Contrast that with the Canadian Division, where Vancouver’s *closest* rival, Calgary, is about 600 miles away. Cross-country flights from Montreal to Vancouver take about four and a half hours and cover 2,800 miles."
Being at opposite ends of the country, the toughest travel in the Canadian Division would belong to Vancouver in the West and Montreal/Ottawa in the East. Winnipeg would be in the best situation, but they'd still log way more miles than those Eastern teams. To my eye, the East Dvision's easy travel looks like it would be an even stronger advantage than usual.
As far as qualify of competition goes, it seems like Vegas, Colorado and Dallas would have a great opportunity to feast on their other five Western Conference opponents — the California teams, plus Arizona and Minnesota.
Arguably the toughest competition might be in the Central, where four teams won five of the last six Stanley Cups — Tampa Bay (2020), St. Louis (2019), Pittsburgh (2016 & 17) and Chicago (2015).
What do you think? Can the Canucks thrive in a far-flung Canadian Division, compared to the schedules that the U.S. teams could be playing?