Bettman: Canadian division, realignment probable for 2020-21 NHL season

Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews waits for the puck to drop during a game against the Canadiens. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

The potential of an all-Canadian division for the upcoming NHL season appears closer to becoming a reality, according to comments made Tuesday by commissioner Gary Bettman.

With the league working through plans to return for the 2020-21 season, one key remaining obstacle is the continued closure of the Canada–U.S. border, and the health and safety guidelines governing how long those who cross the border would need to quarantine.

As case numbers have yet to fall significantly on either side of the border, Bettman acknowledged Tuesday that a situation in which the NHL's seven Canadian teams form their own division up north is likely.

"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 NHL.com'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."

The potential of a Canadian division and realignment of the league's American teams into three regional divisions has been speculated for a fair while given the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing border closure.

On Monday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that, as the league and NHLPA continue negotiate what the coming season will look like, the current target appears to be a Jan. 13 start date, with non-playoff teams reporting Dec. 28 and other clubs doing so on Jan. 1.

Much has yet to be ironed out before a plan is finalized, however, with a number of different possibilities still being considered. Friedman added that "a short-term 'hub plan'" may be being worked on in case it's needed, but that this isn't the preference.

Earlier this month, Friedman reported that four teams — Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh — are exploring the possibility of playing their games at outdoor venues.

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