It’s no secret that the North Division has been a big hit among Canadian hockey fans and while commissioner Gary Bettman says the alignment is a one-off, some people working for Canadian NHL teams are hoping it will stick around for at least one more season.
“There are at least a couple of the Canadian teams that are still (holding) out hope that the North Division will live beyond this season, that they’ll get at least one more year of that,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported during Saturday Headlines on Hockey Night in Canada, adding that influential voices within some of the Canadian teams want to see the excitement surrounding the division extend into a time when fans can return to arenas.
Johnston’s report comes after Bettman was asked about the future of the North Division in a press conference this week.
“We did what we had to do this year, we had no choice if we were going to play,” Bettman said. “I do believe that we may focus on more divisional play going forward, although I’m not sure if this much divisional play would hold interest for an 82-game schedule. But it’s worked well for this year.
“Obviously I don’t envision it continuing… I think our traditional alignment makes more sense and is more widely accepted.”
The NHL was forced to re-align its divisions this season due to the ongoing border closure between Canada and the United States. Under the new format, teams only play games within their divisions and the top four teams in each division after a 56-game schedule make the playoffs. Those teams then play two rounds to determine a division champion who will compete for the Stanley Cup.
The third-round playoff series between the four division winners are currently scheduled for mid-June and the NHL has yet to say whether the North Division winner will be able to play those games at home.
“There’s some irony here,” Johnston added. “The same border restrictions (and) travel issues that might prevent one of these teams from playing at home in the third round of the playoffs, that’s their best hope, in fact, I think, to keep this division one more year. If those restrictions aren’t lifted or changed in some way the NHL might be forced into this.”
On Feb. 16, Sportsnet reported that the national Wednesday Night Hockey game and the double-header Hockey Night in Canada broadcast had seen a year-over-year increase in viewership, with the 7 p.m. ET game on Saturday night averaging two million viewers a week.