The Pros and Cons of Keeping the All Canadian Division of the NHL
The NHL woke up from its holiday slumber slightly longer than normal. Even though the extended layoff was supposed to help prevent further schedule changes, postponements and cancellations keep happening. The NHL has brought back some elements, such as taxi teams, to help the league run a little more smoothly over the next few weeks.
Maybe there’s something else the league should bring back? Last week, a hockey fan friend of mine raised the idea that maybe the NHL should have kept the Canadian division it had last year. Remember that in last year’s shortened season the normal divisional roster was not used, but returned for the 2021-22 season.
Last season, the NHL had an all-Canadian division during the shortened season. Would keeping him permanently be good for the league and its fans?
Many were not supporters of the all-Canadian division. The main criticism was that the Canadian teams weren’t as good as their American counterparts, so guaranteeing one of them a spot in the league semi-finals (remember they weren’t technically not “conference finals” last season) led to below-average playoff products. . This produced the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final, which turned out to be a fluke with their lackluster performance this year.
What if there was an all-Canadian division, but with normal division rules? Inter-divisional play returned this season so that Canadian teams once again faced American teams. The competition would then be more on par with the rest of the league. Under normal playoff rules, that automatic spot in the NHL’s last four going to a team north of the border would automatically be avoided.
The main beneficiary, and also the main loss, would be hockey rivalries. Canadian hockey fans would be treated to a few more of their beloved inter-country matchups. Who doesn’t want more of the Alberta battle between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames? Better yet, the nearly century-old rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.
Those extra games could come at the cost of a few less meetings between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. One of the NHL’s oldest rivalries has been hailed as its best. Instead of meeting three or four times a season (they’re only slated for three games this year), Boston and Montreal might only see each other twice. Not a drastic reduction, but it’s one of the NHL’s best rivalries that’s been diminished.
It would also harm newly established rivalries. One of the Seattle Kraken’s biggest selling points would be their rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks. The seemingly built-in rivalry was used both to grow and to be anticipated by the new NHL franchise. Much like Boston and Montreal, Vancouver and the NHL newcomer only see each other twice a year. Somewhat unrelated, but Toronto Maple Leafs fans would have fewer away games against the Buffalo Sabers so they could cross the border and invade their arena less.
Of course, an all-Canadian division would create a geographic imbalance. Instead of the neat “East versus West” conference, you would have Canada versus divided parts of the United States. Then there are potential financial ramifications. The NHL hates collecting revenue in Canadian dollars only to have to convert it to US dollars. This is why escrow in player salaries is always a contested topic. An all-Canadian division could have financial consequences that the NHL wants to avoid.
The all-Canadian division was a unique thing born out of necessity. Even though the clashes between countries were among the most intense, it made almost no sense to continue. Looks like we’re still going to have that third Bruins game against the Canadiens, after all.