Will the Canucks play in an all-Canadian division in the 2020-21 season?


“I don’t think the border will be open until January 1, if it’s open January 1, I really don’t. “

As the NHL teams gear up for next season with signings and free agent trades, it’s still in the air when next season is up and what it will look like.During the 2020 NHL Draft, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a plan to start the 2020-21 season on January 1, which will make it more of a 2021 season. Previously, however, Bettman had made it clear that ‘They should be “flexible and nimble” to deal with changing circumstances, so even the January 1 start date is tentative.

One of the major complications of the resumption of the season is the closure of the border between the United States and Canada, with no clear sign of the border reopening. Since the NHL is a true two-country league, it creates daunting logistics that other leagues don’t have to deal with.

The Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s only baseball team, so running a full MLB season was as easy as moving the Blue Jays to Buffalo. The Toronto Raptors, also the only Canadian team in the NBA, are expected to face a similar situation next season.

The MLS is similar to the NHL in that it has several Canadian teams, if not three compared to the seven in the NHL. When they resumed their season after the COVID shutdown, the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact remained in Canada, playing a revised Canadian championship tournament. After that, all three Canadian teams moved to “neutral venues” in the United States for their final home games, with the Whitecaps playing in Portland.

This brief, all-Canadian portion of the MLS calendar offers a potential solution for the NHL: an all-Canadian division. It’s an idea that was pitched by a number of people, but on Wednesday a source directly related to the NHL suggested it as a real possibility: Bill Foley, owner of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Foley was on KSHP Radio in Las Vegas for an extended interview with Brian Blessing on the Vegas Hockey hotline. He was asked about the loss of Nate Schmidt to the Canucks, a player Foley was clearly heartbroken to see leave town.

“It really bothered me that we had to trade Schmidtty,” Foley said. “He’s a really great guy, he’s a great teammate, the guys all love him.

Then he dropped a bomb as an aside. When he spoke about the possibility of facing a highly motivated Schmidt with the Canucks in the future, Foley hinted that it might not happen any time soon.

“Yeah, but they’ll be playing in the Canadian division next year,” Foley said.

He said it around 9:40 pm of the video below, in an almost joking way, but he seemed to be pretty serious.

“I don’t think the border will be open until Jan 1, if it’s open Jan 1 I really don’t,” Foley said. “They’re starting to lock up again. Winnipeg is closed. Quebec has peaks. So I think they will play a Canadian division. I don’t think they’re going to cross the border.

The NHL was unwilling to confirm any aspect of what Foley was saying – it just seems to be his opinion on what’s to come – but as an NHL owner, his words carry weight. He is one of the main players who shape the decisions that are made behind the scenes.

If the border is still closed in January and the NHL is adamant about the start of the season, what other option would it have? The NHL could create four makeshift divisions and start the season with intra-division play, with hopes that the border will open up later in the season to accommodate games between the Canadian and American teams.

The other alternative – moving seven Canadian teams – would simply not work, partly because of the logistics involved in finding accommodation for so many teams, but mainly because of financial considerations. The NHL is a gate run league and they need supporters in the arenas to some extent. Foley also addressed this issue.

“Who knows if we’re going to play? If we don’t play in front of the fans, I don’t know if a lot of teams can do it, including us, it would be very difficult, ”he said. “We should be making a serious financial commitment to fund the team if we don’t play in front of the fans. I don’t think Gary Bettman is going to have us flying around and playing in empty arenas. There will be another plan.

“Right now in Vegas, if you have more than 2,500 seats, you can fill 10%,” he added. ” It’s not enough. 10% out of 18,000 is 1800, you can’t make it happen. ”

An All-Canadian division sounds pretty reasonable – the league already has a seven-team division – and it’s not entirely unprecedented. Granted, there was never an all-Canadian division, but when the Canucks first joined the NHL, they were thrown into the East Division – absurdity to Vancouver’s far west coast – with the only other Canadian teams at the time, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

From 1982 to 1991, the Canucks played in the Smythe Division, which was far from being entirely Canadian. The other Canadian members of the division were the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets, with only the Los Angeles Kings excluded.

A Canadian All-Star division would certainly be fun for fans, who often argue online over which Canadian team is best and most likely to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada.

Foley’s suggestion of an All-Canadian division also dovetails with a recent report by Elliotte Friedman in his column of 31 Thoughts on the AHL.

“It depends on what’s going on with the border, but it’s said that Canadian NHL teams with American American League affiliates are planning to move them north of the 49th for the 2020-2021 season,” Friedman said. . This obviously affects the Canucks, whose branch is in Utica, but also the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, whose AHL branches are in Stockton and Bakersfield, respectively.

“It makes sense,” he continued, “because a quarantine period would mean you can’t call players. I don’t know if these teams would be based out of NHL buildings or centralized, but it’s something these three organizations need to prepare for.

For the Canucks, that means moving the Comets from their staunch supporters to New York and possibly placing the team somewhere in Ontario. While fans would love to see the Canucks branch play at Abbotsford or the Pacific Coliseum, the team should still avoid air travel as much as possible and stay close to division rivals like the Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies and Laval. Rocket.

Of course, it’s absolutely not clear whether an AHL season will even take place. Their original plan was to start the season on December 4, but that plan is out of reach. Since the AHL is dependent on NHL players, their schedule will have to coincide with theirs. What makes the AHL season more tenuous is that it’s an even more doors-oriented league than the NHL – without a major TV deal, the AHL relies heavily on ticket sales and online purchases. Game.

Foley had other thoughts on the start of the 2020-21 season and what it might look like.

« [Bettman’s] speaking of January 1, I don’t know. Maybe February 1, maybe a shortened season and an accelerated season, ”he said, before speculating later:“ Let’s say it’s a 56 game season. Whatever happens, they have to complete the playoffs by the end of June because the Olympics are in July and NBC has the Olympics. We have to finish our season and all the playoffs by the end of June.

“Do you think that’s the number?” Blessing asked, sounding incredulous. “Under 60?”

“Oh, I think it’s under 60. Yes. I think it’s 48 or 56. ”

It goes against what Bettman has said in the past about wanting a full 82-game season, but in his own words the NHL needs to be “flexible and nimble.” If the season does not start until January, perhaps February, an 82-game season is not planned, especially if the season and the playoffs must end before the start of the rescheduled Olympics in July, as the suggests Foley.

So, in Foley’s view, the 2020-2021 season will be shortened and compressed, have an all-Canadian division, and have fans in arenas in a certain capacity – hopefully above 10% capacity, to be. specific. Does this sound doable for the NHL? After making the playoffs without a single positive COVID-19 test, it’s hard to bet against the NHL to make the regular season work as well.


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