One good thing about COVID-19? Not to be too flippant here, but the global pandemic has pushed the National Hockey League into a corner — and it might turn out to be great for Canadian hockey fans.
The powers-that-be trying to figure out a scenario to run the 2020-21 NHL season have come up with a suggestion that — because the Canada-U.S. border is still closed to non-essential travel — all seven Canadian teams play in one division, and play strictly among themselves until playoff time.
The biggest benefit of that, of course, is that it would greatly enhance the chances of a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993, when Montreal Canadiens struck a blow for the Maple Leaf, maple syrup and the symbolic beaver.
Details on how the new, probably temporary team alignment might shake down have not been announced, but it seems probable that the Canadian division would play a regular schedule within the confines of our country, and then determine a ‘Canadian’ winner to play off against the other three divisional winners.
That means, of course, that Canada would be guaranteed to have a team in the final four.
The seven Canadian teams have made the final four of the Stanley Cup playoffs only 10 times since 2000 (a seven-per-cent success rate), the most recent being the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18.
The last time a team from Canada reached the Cup final was Vancouver Canucks in 2010-11.
Since most Canadian hockey fans cheer for Canadian teams, the interest in this all-Canadian concept should be high.
Fans of the Leafs and Canadiens will never waver, and there is strong regional support for Vancouver in B.C., the Flames and Oilers in Alberta and the Jets on the Prairies.
That leaves Ottawa, No. 2 in Ontario behind Toronto for fan affection; and No. 2 in the capital region, where fans have had a long emotional affiliation with the Habs until the Senators came along 28 years ago.
The Senators are building what could soon be a Stanley Cup contender.
They may not challenge for Canadian division laurels, but their time is coming. They had three first-round picks in the recent amateur draft and selected German star Tim Stuetzle at No. 3, big defenceman Jake Sanderson at No. 5, and Brandon Wheat King sniper Ridley Greig at No. 28.
Off-season free agent signings of former Panther Evgeni Dadanov, and ex-Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray will also pay dividends.
In the end, the force-feeding of an all-Canadian division may turn out to be so popular the NHL might just decide to keep it after the pandemic is gone and life has returned to normal.
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By Bruce Penton