NHL Rumors: Flyers, Penguins could be split up in proposed realignment

Could the NHL put ‘The Battle of Pennsylvania’ on hold until 2022?

In a league lauded for its deep-seated rivalries, the intrastate angst between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers is truly one of the best bouts in the NHL.

While, in theory, there are more geographically convenient rivalries for either team, as the Penguins are only a short drive away from Columbus, and the New Jersey Devils share an ownership group with the Flyers’ Wells Fargo Center lease mates, the Philadelphia 76ers, neither presents as much excitement as ‘The Battle of Pennsylvania’; a battle that happens four times a year plus sometimes in the playoffs.

However, if recent rumors are to be believed, this battle may have to take a year off in 2021.

According to a wonderfully written piece by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that you can read here (subscription required), rumor has it the NHL’s realignment will look a bit like this:

Canada: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets

East: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals

Central: Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning

West: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights

For the most part, that’s pretty much what fans expected when rumors broke that a realignment to avoid excessive travel and accommodate a Canada-only division would look like, except, of course, that it ships the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Central Division.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the worst development of 2020. If losing out on ‘The Battle of Pennsylvania’ is the cost of a 2020-21 hockey season, maybe its absence will only make the hatred grow stronger. But then you realize that the East would lose the Penguins but somehow retain the Carolina Hurricanes; that’s when acceptance turns into anger.

Fun fact: Pittsburgh is closer to Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and even Washington than Raleigh, North Carolina. Granted, it’s closer to Columbus than any of those cities too, but do you know how long it takes to drive from Pittsburgh to Miami, the home of the Florida Panthers? Yeah, that’d be a brisk 17 hours and 44 minutes. I know teams typically fly to games but still, that’s no joke.

I mean think about it, if the 2020-21 season continues down the road we appear to be on, where teams play a limited schedule of division-only games, we won’t get to see Sidney Crosby shooting on third-year goalie Carter Hart. We won’t get to see if Claude Giroux could even his lifetime series against the Penguins, which is currently sitting at 34 wins versus 36 losses. Heck, the Flyers’ head coach, Alain Vigneault, has only beat Pittsburgh once over his tenure with the team; it would have been nice to see him rack up a few more while his team is clearly the better of the two – I say, as a clearly biased Flyers fan.

Again, I get 2020-21 is going to be a weird season – if we have a season at all. Losing ‘The Battle of Pennsylvania’ would certainly be a shame, but it’s not like a Philadelphia-Pittsburgh rivalry hasn’t been disrupted by a realignment before. The Phillies and Pirates used to be box office before Pittsburgh was moved to the Central Division after 30-plus years in the East with their intrastate foe. With that in mind, if the NHL wants to really make a full slate of division-only games count over a full season, they need to keep games like this intact. It’s just better for business.