It’s been an usual time in life over the last 10 months or more and that certainly includes the sports world.
The NHL managed to survive its pause and hand out the Stanley Cup as it had hoped, but questions remain in regards next season’s outlook.
Commissioner Gary Bettman initiated the NHL draft by informing everyone who was listening that the league is aiming to begin its 2020-21 season on January 1, 2021. The league has long stated it wants to play a full, 82-game regular season in 2021 but of course issues such as the schedule and postseason and how they will look remain. Eighty-two games does seem like quite a stretch, to be honest. But anyways…
There’s also a very important aspect that simply cannot be overlooked these days: travel.
We witnessed Major League Baseball live outside a bubble during its regular season, but they also limited travel with a geographical approach, having teams play exclusively within their division and the matching division in the other (American or National) league.
However, the MLB has just one Canadian team in its league – the Toronto Blue Jays – and they were forced to play home games outside of Canada due to the Canadian Government’s refusal to allow the club – and their opponents – to travel frequently across the Canada/US border.
Given January 1 is a mere two-and-a-half months away, it’s hard to see anything changing on the front.
Enter the all-Canadian division.
Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley recently made a comment that created some serious ways in the hockey community. When asked about playing against former Golden Knight Nate Schmidt – recently traded to the Vancouver Canucks – Foley’s response raised eyebrows.
“Yeah, but they’re going to be playing in the Canadian division”
“I think they’re going to play a Canadian division,” he added when pressed on the subject. “I don’t think they’re going to cross the border.
The comments come at a time shortly after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made pretty clear he will not be willing to open the border any time soon.
“We have committed to keeping Canadians safe and we keep extending the border closures because the States is not in a place where we would feel comfortable reopening those borders,” Trudeau said.
“We will continue to make sure that Canadian safety is top of mind when we move forward. We see the cases in the United States and elsewhere around the world, and we need to continue to keep these border controls in place.”
Here is the interview with Foley, courtesy of Vegas Hockey Hotline, where Foley goes into details about other issues surrounding the return of the NHL next season.
Vegas Hockey Hotline – Exclusive Bill Foley Interview https://t.co/EbpzlqkJz6
— KSHP Radio Las Vegas (@KSHPVegas) October 14, 2020
So, it appears an all-Canadian division is possible. But how possible?
If it happens, who wins it? Who holds the value?
Let’s get into the good stuff and check out the odds and dish out some predictions in the process.
*Odds courtesy of Bovada
Will There be an All-Canadian Division Next Season?
- Yes (+100)
- No (-140)
To be clear, we haven’t heard any comments from the league, or anyone else from Foley, about the implementation of a Canadian division. But he owns one of the 32 (including expansion Seattle in 2021-22) NHL teams, so there’s a real shot he’s privy to something that the league might not have wanted to release quite yet.
To me, however, the quotes above that matter most here were the ones made by the Canadian Prime Minister.
Trudeau refused to let the Blue Jays play in Canada, so why should we expect that to change a couple months from now when the NHL wants to start its season? Not only would there be cross-border travel, there would be plenty of it in a short period of time, especially if they go nuts and try and play all 82 games.
What could be more realistic is to shorten the season to, say, 35-50 games, and implement the all-Canadian division and enter another postseason bubble.
Honestly, there may not be another choice as I don’t see seven Canadian teams setting up shop somewhere in the States for months on end. The two-months postseason bubble was clearly hard on players, staff, coaches, executives and all families involved.
I don’t see the cross-border travel happening, and the Prime Minister made that clear. I’ll take the underdog.
2020-21 All-Canadian Division – Odds to Win
First, we’ll check out the odds for each of the seven Canadian clubs.
- Toronto Maple Leafs (+200)
- Edmonton Oilers (+250)
- Calgary Flames (+500)
- Vancouver Canucks (+650)
- Winnipeg Jets (+700)
- Montreal Canadiens (+750)
- Ottawa Senators (+2500)
There is already some serious rivalries within this group. The Oilers and Flames resurrected the Battle of Alberta in a monster way last season, the Maple Leafs and Canadian have been bitter rivals for just about entire existence of hockey in Canada and the Canucks can usually jump into that Western Canada rivalry with the Oilers and Flames at any given moment.
We see the Senators with big long-shot odds here, and that’s to be expected for a rebuilding team that finished last in the league last season. They did quite well in the draft with two of the first five picks and added a potential No.1 goaltender in Matt Murray via trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Still, it’s not likely to help much in 2020-21.
The Maple Leafs have been wildly busy this season, adding sandpaper in the likes of Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian while coming to terms with potential top-pair blueliner T.J. Brodie – at the cost of the Flames – and most recently Joe Thornton.
The Oilers could have the best two players in the league right now in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – although Nathan MacKinnon has something to say about that – and added Kyle Turris, Tyson Barrie and brought back former top pick Jesse Puljujarvi from overseas.
The Flames added former Canucks No.1 netminder Jacob Markstrom as well as former Canucks blueliner Chris Tanev to help replace Brodie on the right side in the top four.
The Jets’ and Canucks’ offseasons have been rather underwhelming, however, as Winnipeg brought back Paul Stastny to center the second line and while Vancouver added Stanley Cup champion Braden Holtby and Schmidt from the Golden Knights, a Holtby-Thatcher Demko tandem in goal is wildly unpredictable and not all that inspiring despite the latter’s potential.
This leads me to the Montreal Canadiens. It cost them Max Domi, but they added impressive power forward Josh Anderson from the Columbus Blue Jackets before inking Tyler Toffoli – again at the cost of the Canucks who was a huge contributor after a deadline deal from the Los Angeles Kings – to a bargain deal at just $4.5M per annum.
Montreal also added left-handed blueliner Joel Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes and Jake Allen to support Carey Price in goal.
According to TSN’s Travis Yost, the Canadiens were on pace for 115 points per 82 games against Canadians teams last season in 15 games against them. That was second-best behind the Jets and their 123 points, but with Patrik Laine rumors swirling and a vastly uninspiring offseason so far – not to mention horrible underlying numbers last season – I’m not on board there.
Who do I think wins the division? To me, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs as the favorite. They have the most talent, they have good goaltending, they adding big-time defensive needs on the right side and also addressed a major need in getting a little bigger and meaner.
The best bet is the Maple Leafs in this group, but if you’re looking for some additional value, go ahead and roll the dice on the Canadians.