Canadian provincial governments have approved the NHL’s return to play plan and will allow Canadian teams to practice and play in their respective provinces. This means the NHL Canadian division will stay in Canada, meaning the NHL will not have to find temporary host cities for the seven Canadian teams.
Staying home 🙌
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) December 24, 2020
NHL Canadian Division Remains in Canada
This decision has massive impacts on the 2020-21 season. The Canadian teams will no longer be forced to find home rinks in the United States, and do not have to worry about travel. All seven teams will travel to play other teams within Canada, but will not cross the Canada-America border. As of right now, that border is still closed to all non-essential travel, and the NHL falls under that category. Teams outside of the NHL Canadian division will likely not see the Canadian teams until the playoffs.
The updated playoff format of the top four teams from each division making the playoffs complicates the divisions. If the COVID-19 pandemic slows down enough to the point where the NHL feels it is safe, they could open up cross-divisional play. While this is unlikely, it would put the Canadian division at a massive disadvantage. Watching tape on a team or player is much less useful than playing a meaningful game against them. Not being able to make in-game adjustments to a playstyle makes teams one-dimensional, and easy to exploit.
However, the good news about the NHL Canadian division is the repeated matchups. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames rivalry, dubbed “The Battle of Alberta” will happen 10 times over the course of 56 games. In addition, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets will likely be the front-runners for first place. As they become more familiar with each other, there will be some fantastic hockey played between those two. Even with no fans, there will still be an atmosphere of excitement when Canadian foes clash.