During an appearance on a radio show in Las Vegas this past week, Golden Knights owner Bill Foley dropped what some are describing as a “bombshell” - while others see it more as common sense.
In a discussion about the team’s offseason moves, Foley was asked about the recently departed Nate Schmidt who was traded to the Vancouver Canucks to make room for Alex Pietrangelo. When asked about facing Schmidt on a division rival, Foley responded, “Yeah, but they’re going to be playing in the Canadian Division.”
Later in the conversation he added, “I don’t think they’re going to cross the border.”
Back in the spring, the Canadian Government 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 COVID 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.
That becomes a huge issue for the NHL. At one point Commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned he was hoping to work with the Canadian Government to get around the border closure, but when the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays weren’t granted an exemption, any hope of that happening for the NHL seemed to go out the window.
The NHL wants to begin the next season in early 2021, and with the border still closed, that means it’ll have to change the way it does business.
One possibility that had been speculated on is that the the NHL would re-align the divisions for the 2021 season so teams wouldn’t need to cross the border. With his “Canada Division” comment, Foley seems to have confirmed the NHL is in favor of this option.
This would mean a new division for the Avalanche as they are currently in the Central with the Winnipeg Jets, who would have to be moved to the Canadian Division.
Since Foley made his comments, one potential re-alignment scenario has been floating around social media.
In this scenario, the Avalanche would remain in the same division as the Dallas Stars and rival Minnesota Wild while joining the Pacific’s San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.
Another option would be to have five divisions. The NHL could group the Avalanche with the American Pacific teams and then maintain a Central division with Minnesota, St. Louis, Chicago, Dallas and Nashville.
One look at the map and it becomes obvious that regardless of how the league is aligned, the Avalanche are in for a lot more travel than most other American teams.
Regardless of how the league re-aligns its divisions, it will require a lot of travel for the Canadian teams, as well as more travel than normal for any American teams west of St. Louis. Travel is costly for teams - particularly when most aren’t going to be able to sell tickets. One way the NHL can help limit travel is by adopting a series-based schedule similar to Major League Baseball.
The league could schedule a team to come to the Pepsi Center and play a back to back - or even three games in four night - before heading to its next destination. It would still be a lot of travel, but it’s a solution that could curtail the total miles traveled and time spent at airports.
Looking for ways to optimize the schedule will be important, particularly if the league’s desire is to play upwards of 60+ games.
With so many questions still unanswered, there is only one thing for certain: The 2021 NHL season is going to be unlike any we’ve ever seen and likely will ever see again. The way the standings are aligned will likely be the least crazy part we see.