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Border closure could put the Florida Panthers in an interesting new division for 2021

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An all-Canadian would force a league-wide realignment

Chicago Blackhawks v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Last week, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley might have spilled the beans when it comes to a potential new covid-19 related twist to the upcoming 2021 season.

When questioned on KSHP Radio’s Vegas Hockey Hotline about the wisdom of trading defenseman Nate Schmidt to the division-rival Vancouver Canucks, Foley responded: “Yeah, but they’re going to be playing in the Canadian division.”

When pressed on his original answer Foley added: “I think they’re going to play a Canadian division. I don’t think they’re going to cross the border.”

Back in the spring, Canada closed its borders to non-essential travel - particularly from the United States. It’s a major reason why Canada has been able to keep its number of coronavirus infections so low through the last six months and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned earlier this month that he’s not likely to repeal the travel ban any time soon.

What would an all-Canadian Division mean for the 24 NHL teams based in the United States, and more specifically the Florida Panthers?

Upon hearing this news, I pulled up a map and concluded that if the NHL stuck to a four-division format (now one 7-team Canadian, and three U.S. divisions of 8 teams) that the Panthers would play in a realigned division that looked one of two ways, and in each option, contained some teams currently residing in the Central Division.

Option One: grouping as closely as possible by geographical location

If there is indeed going to be a Canadian Division, I think this is the best way for the NHL to realign for the 2021 season. Let’s say for the sake of this article, that the regular season is 56 games and all play is keep within each of the four divisions. That would mean the Cats would play its new (and old) “division rivals” eight times (4 at home, 4 on the road) each. The top four teams in each division would advance to the playoffs where a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format would be used. As there would be no conferences this season, the final four matchup would be set by regular season point totals.

New Divisions

Canadian Division: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks

Western Division: Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild

Central Division: Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets

Eastern Division: New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres,

Hockey on Hockey

Under this option the Panthers, Lightning and Red Wings would stay together and be joined by three Central teams (Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis) and two clubs from the Metropolitan (Carolina, Columbus) in an interesting hodgepodge of teams.

Option Two: keeping the Metropolitan Division intact

This scenario keeps the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division together for some continuity and sees the Canadian teams and the eight clubs out west in the same hypothetical realignment, but results in a different combination of the remaining teams from the Central and Atlantic Divisions. This alignment would keep five of the current Atlantic Division teams together with Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis added to the mix.

New Divisions

Canadian Division: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks

Western Division: Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild

Metropolitan Division: New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes

Central Division: Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres,

There are other ways (different combinations of teams in the four-division format or even going to five or six divisions) the league could realign for 2021, but these two examples seem to make the most sense from both a regular season and postseason standpoint. Going with an interdivision schedule limits the amount of cities each team is traveling to and chances are we’d see back-to-back road games played in the same arena on road trips to lessen the amount of travel. One obvious con to this kind of set up for is seeing the same seven teams over and over again. That said, we are in the midst of a pandemic, so whatever hockey we get we should be grateful for. At least as Panthers fans, we’d be getting a regular look at some different teams with Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis being part of both options and Carolina and Columbus being part of option one.

Poll

Which realignment option do you like better?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Option 1: Panthers, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Carolina, Columbus
    (114 votes)
  • 34%
    Option 2: Panthers, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Buffalo, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville
    (59 votes)
173 votes total Vote Now