Since the days of the NHL with 21 teams, the path to the Stanley Cup final was not so clear for a Canadian team.
Whoever leaves the Group of Seven under the proposed rules for a 2020-21 season reinvented waltz would go straight to the Final Four.
Can you imagine the tinnitus?
Four of the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Jets, Senators, Leafs and Canadiens would be promised a place in the Stanley Cup tournament, setting the stage for the top three of Canadian sevens and a guaranteed representative with games yet to play for 27 other NHL teams are already at home.
Of course, this being an age defined by uncertainty and impermanence, there is only one obstacle.
And it is quite large.
Even when the NHL and its players reached an interim agreement on the protocols and rules that govern a radically reimagined season on Friday night, Canadian health officials have yet to endorse the plan.
In fact, a call was scheduled with the provinces on Saturday to continue these discussions. So far, they haven’t done well, which is why the NHL has been forced to at least entertain the idea of transferring its seven Canadian teams to the US this season, like Sportsnet first. reported this week.
But this is not a path that anyone with a strong interest in these discussions would really want to take.
The league is striving to create a fully Canadian division with 56 team games played entirely between the Group of Seven. This would eliminate the need to cross the federal border and observe quarantines.
However, five provinces must sign the protocols that govern the game and there has been some resistance from government officials over having seven teams crossing the country for games. The NHL plan requires players to be tested at least every other day – it could potentially be every day – while essentially creating small bubbles around each team with as little outside contact as possible.
Chartered planes would be used for all trips and health standards in hotels and road restaurants would be strictly monitored. Players would basically be confined to the hotel and the rink as well. The league must do everything possible to ease concerns about how this may be impacting public health risk at a time when COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
Where that gets really interesting is that the NHL is planning a January 3 start on the training grounds and a record drop on January 13 in the regular season. This is just over three weeks from now. Unless provincial governments change their minds quickly, discussions with the NHL will begin to push quickly against those dates.
Everyone is running from their pants to some extent here – basically a necessity in the midst of a pandemic.
For example, San Jose Sharks will run a training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, because of health restrictions in Santa Clara County, but it is still unclear how long they will stay there and how exactly this will affect their game schedule. .
Decisions will be postponed until the last possible second to ensure that as much information as possible is available when making them.
In the event that this Canadian division fails to obtain the necessary government support, the NHL and NHLPA would have to quickly agree on another way forward. The most obvious alternatives are a hub configuration in Edmonton or the relocation of all teams to the United States.
However, it is entirely possible that the league will wait beyond the opening of the training camps before pivoting in another direction. There is a deep desire to try to make this work for Canadian teams in their own markets.
This helps to explain why not everything is happening in a predictable sequential order now. Friday’s interim NHL / NHLPA deal was significant because it marked the end of several weeks of coming and going in minute detail – the creation of four to six-man taxi squads, formulas changed for performance bonuses and other limits, opt-out language volunteers for any payer who wishes not to play and the like – but some loose ends will remain even after executive boards ratify the deal in the coming days.
Canada’s issue is the biggest of all.
Now we know that there will be a season and it is one that has incredible possibilities, especially for fans of the country who claim the sport. But it may not be allowed to proceed as intended.
After a year like this, what a pity it would be.
Here is a look at the realigned divisions proposed in the NHL / NHLPA interim agreement:
• Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg.
• Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
• Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, Tampa.
• Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas.