Canada division probable for 20-21 NHL season, Commissioner Bettman says

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The NHL is working on plans to temporarily realign for this season that would include one division for the seven teams from Canada, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.

During an online interview with The Maccabi USA Sports Show, Commissioner Bettman said the realignment would likely be necessary because of travel restrictions between the United States and Canada aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

“There are a lot of things we have to do to return to play,” Commissioner Bettman said. “For us to return to play, we’re not going to play 82 games, obviously, and we have travel issues because of the restrictions at the border between Canada and the U.S. You can’t go back and forth, so we’re actually going to have to realign.

“If everything stays the way it is, we’re probably going to have to have a Canadian division and realign in the U.S., and we’re trying to focus on dealing with all of those challenges.”

Any realignment plan would have to be approved by the NHL Board of Governors. An all-Canadian division would include the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets. The 24 U.S.-based teams will likely be separated into three divisions, with eight teams in each.

Commissioner Bettman said a start date for the season and the number of games each team will play have yet to be agreed upon.

“We’re still a work in progress,” Commissioner Bettman said. “There’s much to be determined.”

The League has been in ongoing discussions with the NHL Players’ Association about the format for this season, including the start date and length of training camp, and protocols for returning to play during the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioner Bettman said he did not anticipate any announcement of plans for the upcoming season Wednesday.

Based on information from medical experts, particularly regarding the availability of vaccines to the general public, the NHL hopes to play a full regular season with fans in the arenas in 2021-22, when the expansion Seattle Kraken begin play as the League’s 32nd team.

Seattle will join the Pacific Division and the Arizona Coyotes will shift to the Central Division, which previously had seven teams. But those divisions will be reshuffled for this season.

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