Bettman: NHL divisions must realign for 2021 season, Canadian-only division probable

Red Wings likely shift into ‘central’ division

FILE - This March 12, 2020, file photo, shows the Capital One Arena, home of the Washington Capitals NHL hockey club in Washington. Time is running short for the NHL to start its season on Jan. 1. Various pandemic-related geographic and economic issues remain unresolved. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File) (Nick Wass, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The NHL is expected to start its shortened 2020-21 season on Jan. 13, according to numerous reports out this week.

Hockey insider Elliotte Friedman wrote non-playoff teams should expect to report to camps on Dec. 28, and the rest on Jan. 1.

“No exhibition games appear likely. I believe there is a short-term ‘hub plan’ being worked on just in case, but it is not the preference. The biggest headache might be training camp plans in places like Montreal, San Jose (Arizona?) and Winnipeg, which have strict current restrictions due to COVID-19.”

Elliotte Friedman, SportsNet

As previously reported, if the season can start mid-January, the league expects to have a 56-game regular season. Don’t expect fans in any of the buildings any time soon.

The last time the NHL played a shortened season was in 2012-13 when a labor dispute between the league and players union delayed the season’s start until Jan. 6, 2013. They ended up playing a 48-game season, just as they did in 1994-95 due to another lockout.

Bettman speaks about divisions

Meanwhile, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman all but confirmed there will be a significant realignment, noting that there likely will be an all-Canadian teams division due to travel restrictions:

“There are a lot of things we have to do to return to play. 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,” Bettman told’s Tom Gulitti.

“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.”

There is nothing I am more excited for than that Canadian-only division. Sounds like a lot of fun, even without the fans in the arena. SportsNets Jeff Marek and Justin Bourne were talking about how this could be an opportunity for Canada’s seven NHL teams to play for their own trophy, kind of like a derby trophy in association football (soccer, if you must).

I am totally behind this. It could be a sponsored trophy, but if it’s named after a player or whatever, I think it would have to be Gretzky. No other option.

Where this puts the Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings likely will end up in a division that looks something like this:

  • Chicago
  • Columbus
  • Detroit
  • Florida
  • Nashville
  • Pittsburgh/Minnesota?
  • St. Louis/Carolina?
  • Tampa

I guess we can call it the “Central Division,” although there has been some talk of special division names for this, well, special season. The old Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe names could make a brief return, perhaps. At least some have argued in favor of it.

I think this “central” division is fun enough. It would be nice to play Chicago and St. Louis routinely again. Seeing Pittsburgh would be cool, too. I am not sure if this is a better fit for Detroit, in terms of competitiveness, than the Atlantic Division is. The Wings don’t have to see Boston, which is nice, but now they have to play St. Louis. Not sure which is worse.

Update: It appears we may not have the Wings and Blues in the same division after all -- Pierre Lebrun reports Carolina and Minnesota -- not Pittsburgh and St. Louis -- will be in the central:

I’m much less excited about that. But what does it matter, really? It doesn’t when most, if not all, of these games will not have fans in attendance.

My only concern, ever, is that the Red Wings get permanently shifted back to a Western Conference division. I’m not saying that’s at all likely, just a concern. I never want to go back to the weekly 10:30 p.m. Tuesday games in Arizona.

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About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.