The Case For And Against Keeping The NHL’s All Canadian Division

Vancouver Canucks fans (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks fans (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The NHL’s has awaken from its slightly longer-than-normal holiday slumber. Even though the extended layoff was supposed to help prevent more scheduling changes, postponements and cancellations are still coming in. The NHL has brought back some elements, such as taxi squads, to help the league run a little smoother for the next few weeks.

Maybe there’s something else the league should bring back? Last week, a hockey fan friend of mine brought up the idea that maybe the NHL should have kept the Canadian division it had from last year. Remember in last year’s shortened season the normal divisional alignment wasn’t used, but returned for the 2021-2022 season.

Last season the NHL had an all-Canadian division during the shortened season. Would keeping it permanently be good for the league and it’s fans?

Many were not a fan of the all-Canadian division. The main critique 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 “conference finals” last season) led to subpar playoff products. It did produce the Montreal Canadiens going to the Stanley Cup final, which was all but proven to be a fluke with their poor performance this year.

Well what if there was an all Canadian division, but with normal division rules? Inter division play returned this season so the Canadian teams would once again play the American teams. Competition would then be more on par with the rest of the league. With normal playoff rules returning that automatic spot in the NHL’s final four going to a team north of the border automatically would be avoided.

The main beneficiary, and also the main loss, would be hockey rivalries. Canadian hockey fans would get a few more of their beloved inter country matchups. Who doesn’t want more of the Battle of Alberta between The Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames? Even better is the nearly century old rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.

Those extra games might come at the cost of a few less matchups between the Canadians and the Boston Bruins. One of the NHL’s oldest rivalries has been considered the best. Instead of playing each other three or four times a season (they’re only scheduled for three games this year), Boston and Montreal might only see each other twice. Not a drastic reduction, but it is one of the NHL’s best rivalries being diminished.

It would hurt newly established rivalries as well. One of the mains selling points for the Seattle Kraken would be their rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks. The seemingly built in rivalry was being used to both grow, and anticipated by, the NHL’s newest franchise. Much like Boston and Montreal, Vancouver and the NHL’s new kid on the block might see each other only twice a year. Somewhat unrelated, but Toronto Maple Leafs fans would have less games away against the Buffalo Sabres so they might cross the border and invade their home arena less.

Obviously, an all Canadian division would lead to a geographical imbalance. Instead of the neat “Eastern vs Western” conference you would have Canadian versus divided up portions of the United States. Then there’s potential financial ramifications. The NHL hates collecting revenue in Canadian dollars to have to convert it into United States dollars. That’s why escrow in player salaries is always a contested topic. An all Canadian division could have financial consequences the NHL wants to avoid.

The all Canadian division was a one-time thing born out of necessity. Even if inter-country matchups were some of the most intense, practically it made no sense to continue. Looks like we’ll keep getting that third game of Bruins versus Canadiens, after all.