The National Hockey League is contemplating the possibility of a temporary realignment for the 2020-21 season, according to Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The NHL is targeting a Jan. 1 start date and has several factors to consider due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including quarantine periods that vary when traveling from state to state and the closure of the Canadian border for nonessential travel. The latter has the NBA’s Toronto Raptors considering playing their home games at Bridgestone Arena.
Several reports have surfaced that the NHL could create an all-Canadian division with the league's seven teams north of the border — Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg — leaving the 24 remaining teams to make up the other three divisions.
“We may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel on Tuesday. “It may be that we're better off — particularly if we're playing a reduced schedule, which we're contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based and realigning — again on a temporary basis — to deal with the travel issues.”
If the league does indeed go with a geographic-based realignment, the Nashville Predators could be looking at a drastically different division next year. Currently, the Winnipeg Jets (1,083 miles), Colorado Avalanche (1,023 miles), Minnesota Wild (692 miles) and Dallas Stars (617 miles) present the most significant number of travel miles within the Central Division for the Predators.
The St. Louis Blues (254 miles) and Chicago Blackhawks (399 miles) require the least amount of travel.
It is not known if the potential realignment would mix teams from the Eastern and Western Conference. But if all cards are on the table, Eastern Conference teams Columbus (334 miles), Carolina (451 miles), Detroit (471 miles) and Pittsburgh (472 miles) all have a closer geographic proximity to Nashville than do the bulk of the franchise's current divisional foes.
More details should be known about the temporary realignment plans on Thursday following the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting. Playing the entirety of the regular season in a bubble-type format similar to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not likely; however, a modified bubble format could be implemented. The league is also considering a reduction in the number of regular season games as well.
"We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue,” Bettman said. “But we're also exploring the possibility of a hub. You'll come in. You'll play for 10-12 days. You'll play a bunch of games without traveling. You'll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We'll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need.”
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This story first ran in our partner publication the Nashville Post.