Friends, 2020 has been a weird, weird year. The National Hockey League’s season was halted with a dozen games left for most teams, then proceeded to an unprecedented 24-team mega-playoffs that culminated with the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisting the Stanley Cup in an empty arena in September.
The 2020-21 season may be similarly weird, as Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley alluded to on a radio appearance on Wednesday.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley to @BrianBlessing on Vegas Hockey Hotline on facing Nate Schmidt/Canucks: "Yeah, but they're going to be in the Canadian division."
— David Schoen 📰🗞🏒 (@DavidSchoenLVRJ) October 14, 2020
What Foley is alluding to is this: the Canadian border is still closed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and unless there’s a vaccine anytime soon it’s unlikely that the sporting world will return to any type of normalcy for awhile. So what’s going to happen in a closed borders world is some creativity.
Folks like Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston have discussed the possibility of a seven team all-Canadian division before, but Foley is an owner and his team’s representatives on the Board of Governors so he’d obviously have pretty good information.
So if Foley is referencing a Canadian division, and the Western Hockey League is sequestering its American teams in their own division for the coming season, an all-Canadian NHL division is probably in the works.
Friedman referenced a possible temporary northern move for a handful of AHL affiliates in 31 Thoughts:
This depends on what happens with the border, but there is talk that Canadian-based NHL teams with U.S.-based AHL affiliates are considering moving them north of the 49th for the 2020–21 season. That’s Calgary/Stockton; Edmonton/Bakersfield; and Vancouver/Utica. It makes sense, because a quarantine period would mean you can’t call up players. Not sure if those teams would be based out of the NHL buildings or centralized, but it is something these three organizations must prepare for.
Four Canadian franchises have Canadian AHL affiliates: Winnipeg (Manitoba Moose), Toronto (Toronto Marlies), Ottawa (Belleville Senators) and Montreal (Laval Rocket). The other three franchises moving temporarily northward would provide for an all Canadian AHL division to mimic the NHL and make call-ups much easier and not subject to border challenges or quarantine.
There’s a lot that needs to be figured out between now and whenever the next season begins, but these are the kinds of things that the NHL and its member clubs are weighing as we move forward.