After commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday that the NHL is considering a temporary realignment for the upcoming season, theScore decided to create three realignment options the league could explore.
With Canada's 14-day quarantine rules still in effect (despite an ongoing pilot project), it's not surprising that Bettman hinted an all-Canadian division may be inevitable in 2020-21. But how would that affect the rest of the NHL?
There are a few important things to keep in mind here. Bettman specifically said having teams travel "from Florida to California may not make sense," so we've eliminated inter-conference regular-season games. These realignment proposals are designed to align time zones and reduce travel as much as possible - even if teams are playing in short-term hubs for 10-12 days at a time, as Bettman revealed.
For the purposes of this exercise, we assumed the league will stage a 48-game regular season, which is reportedly the shortest campaign it's considering. Bettman also said he hopes to have the playoffs finished before July, so anything more than 48 games seems challenging with a Jan. 1 target start date. The NHL ran a 48-game season during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, so there's familiarity.
Here are our three realignment options:
U.S. teams play each divisional opponent six-to-seven times. The top four teams in each division make the playoffs.
Canadian teams play each divisional opponent eight times. The top four teams make the playoffs.
The East and West divisions are nicely split geographically, but the South Central is a bit of a mishmash. It features three teams on Central Time - the Blackhawks, Predators, and Blues - and five on Eastern Time.
The only competitive imbalance comes in the West division, where at least one of the Ducks, Coyotes, Kings, Wild, and Sharks would make the playoffs. All five of those clubs finished in the bottom third of the league in points percentage last season.