NHLPA poll reveals players don't want realigned divisions to stay

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) lines up for a face-off against the Winnipeg Jets during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Jason Franson/CP)

It was fun while it lasted. But, according to the National Hockey League Players’ Association annual player poll, 68.2 per cent of players surveyed would not like to see the league's regional divisions carried forward.

Nearly 500 players participated in the 2020-21 survey, giving the hockey world some direct insights into how they view the league, the season, and their peers via 14 hockey-related questions.

Divisional realignment was one of the most significant changes introduced in 2020-21 as the NHL navigated the ongoing pandemic in its shortened. While the new geography- and border-based divisions introduced new rivalries and revived old ones -- particularly in Canada, with extra helpings of Toronto-Montreal matchups and the Battle of Alberta -- the NHL has indicated all along that this would be a temporary change based on current challenges as opposed to a new normal. Sounds like the players support that thought, and a return to the traditional Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Division model.

While players clearly aren't keen to continue with these realigned regional groupings, they did respond very favourably to the series-style scheduling, which pitted teams against one another for three or four games at a time. More than two thirds of players — 66.3 per cent — say they would like to see a series-style schedule carried forward This strategy heightened rivalries with a playoff-like feel and reduced travel for players, allowing for more rest and recuperation and fewer trips to each market.

This year's player survey also featured the usual questions such as best scorer, top goalie, most complete player and more, giving us direct insight into how players view their peers.

Here are some takeaways from the player-related poll results:

Matthews voted NHL's best goal-scorer

Alex Ovechkin clearly still has his elite scoring touch — just ask one third of NHLers polled — but it’s Auston Matthews who lands atop the results as the league’s best goal-scorer, with almost half the votes cast for the Toronto Maple Leafs star. Matthews put up a career-high 47 goals last season and followed it up with 41 in 52 games in 2020-21 to land the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

Full results:
1. Auston Matthews, TOR (46.27 per cent of votes)
2. Alex Ovechkin, WSH (33.82 per cent)
3. David Pastnak, BOS (6.02 per cent)
4. Connor McDavid, EDM (4.56 per cent)

Unsurprisingly, Matthews and Ovechkin also landed atop the “best shot” votes, though in reverse order with Ovi’s snipe landing him 48.95 per cent of votes in the category followed by Matthews’ signature wrister getting 28.78 per cent.

Hedman’s reign continues as king of the blue line (and it’s not even close)

For the third-straight year, Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman has been voted as the league’s top d-man, with this year’s results overwhelmingly in his favour.

While the rest of the top-voted rearguards aren’t surprising, there’s a sign that the next wave of elite defenders is about to crest — Colorado’s Cale Makar, one season after winning the Calder Trophy, tied Nashville’s Roman Josi with the second-most votes.

Full results:
1. Victor Hedman, TB (64.71 per cent of votes)
T-2. Roman Josi, NSH (7.35 per cent)
T-2. Cale Makar, COL (7.35 per cent)
4. Drew Doughty, LA (2.73 per cent)
5. John Carlson, WSH (2.73 per cent)

When we talk about the Lightning, we tend to focus on the offence — and how can we not! — but between Hedman and teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy, who received more than half the votes in the “best goalie” category, the Lightning's top-voted players were on the defensive side. (You've got to wonder how these poll results would've changed had Nikita Kucherov been healthy enough to play in the regular season.)

Crosby, Bergeron voted most complete players

We’ve got a tie atop the votes for "most complete player," with captains Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron each landing 23.78 per cent of votes. Florida’s Aleksander Barkov ranked third (14.65 per cent), following by Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Anze Kopitar.

McDavid is most-wanted teammate in a pinch

You’ve gotta win one game, and can choose any one player to bring in to do so. Who you got? Of the NHLers polled, 36.74 chose Connor McDavid, followed by Sidney Crosby (23.04 per cent). Vasilevskiy was the only goaltender to appear in the top-six results in this category — no surprise, considering he’s now shut out opponents in three straight series-clinching games dating back to last fall’s Stanley Cup Final.

"Best dressed" belongs to Matthews

King Henrik has long been considered NHL fashion royalty, but the 2020-21 poll saw a new player take the throne of best threads: Auston Matthews is considered the league’s most fashionable player, with 21.16 per cent of the votes, followed by David Pastrnak (11.08).

Perhaps it's all part of the plan...

And even though Lundqvist wasn’t able to play this year, you know he still landed a spot in the top four of this season’s survey, with 5.04 per cent of votes. The man simply never goes out of style.

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