Check out the new planned structure of the NHL including the Canadian Division.
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The Fate of the Canadian Division
The biggest hurdle to starting up the 2021 season lies inside the Canadian division. The NHL needs numerous other government bodies to support their plan, and it isn't yet clear whether they'll get the necessary approval.
Coronavirus is at the center of it all. Cases are spiking in Canada, and certain territories within the country are on lockdown entering the New Year. Some of those may even remain that way until the mass deployment of a vaccine, which will probably take until at least the spring.
If the NHL doesn't get the green light from Canada, they'll have to figure out alternatives. The most likely scenarios include moving all seven Canadia teams to the United States for the duration of the season, just as the NBA has done with the Toronto Raptors, who are currently setting up shop in Tampa Bay.
Issues abound with this contingency, though. Chief among them: What happens if Canada's approval isn't consensus? The NHL needs to get the go-ahead from officials in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia. It's possible they get approval from one, two, or even three of those places but not all of them. Are they prepared to move all seven teams to the U.S. if they don't have consensus among all five local governing bodies? That isn't quite clear.
Moving Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg to the U.S. would also force another division realignment. All seven would likely be scattered throughout the country, and unless they're all put within the same neutral area, the NHL will need to restructure all four of its current divisions if minimizing travel remains the goal.
When will the NHL Start?
Good news, hockey fans: The 2021 NHL season is happening. Both the league and the players' union have come to a tentative agreement on a 56-game schedule they hope to begin on January 13, with training caps opening on January 3. The proposal must still be voted on, but after a lot of uncertainty, the expectation is that the schedule structure passes and that there will be a Stanley Cup Champion crowned this year.
A lot of questions still remain. Will there be hockey in Canada at all? What will the division realignment look like? We're here to break it all down so you can be directly in the know. But first, because it appears the season is actually happening, let's take a quick look at the latest 2021 NHL futures, with odds coming from Bovada and BetOnline:
This is a turbulent time in sports, particularly hockey, so be prepared for these odds to swing. Make sure to double-check them before deciding on any wagers. But now, let's get into everything you need to know about how the 2020-21 NHL season is going to unfold.
2021 NHL Season Futures Breakdown
In order to minimize travel and exposure amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL is reworking their divisions. Unless something changes with the proposed NHL Canadian Division, here's what the final product should look like:
- Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
- Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Florida, Nashville, Tampa Bay
- Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas
- Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
All 56 games will take place within these specific divisions only.
For example, Boston would wind up facing New Jersey, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington seven times apiece. The same would then happen across the other three divisions, though on a more truncated scale in the Canadian division, since it only includes seven teams.
What isn't yet clear is how the NHL plans to handle the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The same number of teams can still make it, but tiebreakers will need to be tweaked since there's no interconference play. More than that, they must figure out whether the postseason is going to take place at a neutral location, or if they're hoping travel will be safer and more freely allowed by then.
Our Favorite Stanley Cup Picks
Despite all the certainty, it still seems like the 2021 NHL season is going to happen in some form. And already, there are a couple of teams catching our eye if you're looking for great payout value combined with a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. (We'll be using Bovada's odds for each pick).
Tampa Bay Lightning (+800)
Yes, mentioning the reigning Stanley Cup champion is obligatory. But this isn't just a ceremonial mention. The Lightning is also terrifying.
The offense alone is swoon-worthy. They converted 11.2 percent of all shots on goal last year, the highest mark in the league by a wide margin. They're still built to put that kind of pressure on opposing defenses.
New York Rangers (+3000)
Somewhat quietly, the Rangers are working off a stellar 2019-20 season. Their 6.5 goals per game ranked fourth in the entire NHL, and they didn't do anything over the extended offseason to compromise their position.
Discipline is all that really scares us with this team. The Rangers were so-so at killing penalty minutes, and they committed more penalty minutes per game than any other squad. They have to improve there. If they do, they'll be a real threat.
Winnipeg Jets (+3300)
Strong defense wins a lot of games, and the Jets' stopping power is real. In particular, their goalkeeping is sublime.
Only Dallas, Arizona and Boston posted higher save percentages last year.
Whether they can generate enough offense to enter the title discussion remains to be seen. We also have to see what happens with the Canadian division. As of now, though, it feels like they're the ultimate sleeper team.
Check out the below list of all the best online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use for all your NHL betting: