Reflect on the potential of an all-Canadian division in the NHL

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There has been talk of the National Hockey League with an all-Canadian division for next season, in large part due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the border closure between Canada and the United States.

We got our best indication yet that the idea is well under consideration Wednesday afternoon, thanks to a passing comment from Las Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley.

Foley – responding to a question about the risk of trading defenseman Nate Schmidt to a division rival in Vancouver – suggested to Brian Blessing, host of Sportsbook Radio and Vegas Hockey Hotline, that the risk would be minimized for at least the season next due to all-Canadian division.

The NHL has not publicly put forward any plans for next season, still working to design a regular season that won’t force players into bubbles for months. But some variables, like closing international borders, will force the league to make significant changes.

An all-Canadian division wouldn’t be difficult to assemble – the league already operates a seven-team (central) division, leaving 24 US teams divided into three other divisions. And much like the NHL’s experimentation with the play-in streak for the 2019-20 playoffs, an all-Canadian division could end up being a refreshing wrinkle for an often lapsed regular season.

With no unsigned restricted free agents and a few notable unlimited free agents, most lists are now defined. So how competitive could an all-Canadian division be?

First, a look at how these teams finished last season before the shutdown:

Their season ended as informal as it got – a playoff loss to the modest Chicago Blackhawks – but the Edmonton Oilers were the most successful of seven Canadian teams in the regular season last year.

The biggest takeaway is that most of the Canadian teams performed similarly – five teams followed to finish within three points of each other, which is remarkable. Even an underperforming Montreal Canadiens team pulled off a surprising playoff surprise for the Pittsburgh Penguins, leaving the rebuilding Ottawa Senators as the only minnow in the hypothetical division.

It is also interesting to note that the Canadian teams, although they are closely grouped against each other in the standings, have had disparate results against each other.

If we subdivide the regular season roster to the only games where Canadian teams have faced each other, we see much louder performances. That’s okay when you only look at 25% of full regular season data, but I was especially intrigued by how poorly Vancouver looked in their clashes and how great Winnipeg and Montreal were in theirs:

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It’s probably fair to say that Ottawa didn’t do anything during the offseason that would suggest they’ll improve to last place next year, but beyond their rebuilding efforts, this group of teams already competitive entered a subtle arm. race – an expected consequence of six of those teams that qualified for the playoffs last year.

I’m particularly intrigued by Montreal, an already capable team at the same strength that added two highly skilled forwards, Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli. Montreal still has some serious special teams questions to answer next season, but don’t forget the success they’ve had against their Canadian peers.

Another interesting difficulty on this possible division – there are a number of big name players moving from one Canadian team to another this offseason. TJ Brodie (Calgary to Toronto), Tyson Barrie (Toronto to Edmonton), Chris Tanev (Vancouver to Calgary), Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver to Calgary) and Toffoli (Vancouver to Montreal) could see many of their former teams .

These teams are already hyper-competitive with each other in a normal season. In an all-Canadian division with a good portion of intra-division roster turnover? Let’s just say the league can take gold with such a restructuring, making the most of a very difficult economic and logistical situation.

Données via Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com, Hockey Reference



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