It has long been anticipated that the NHL would need to realign its divisions for the 2021 hockey season. Continuing complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic mean that the United States/Canada border remains closed, preventing Canadian teams from coming to the United States for regular season games and vice versa. Therefore it was expected that the NHL would split into four new temporary divisions for the upcoming season: one all-Canadian division plus three divisions dividing the US teams. We now have a better idea of what those US divisions are expected to look like:
As TSN’s Pierre LeBrun points out in his tweet, this alignment is not finalized just yet. Additional changes could be coming. If this is the actual alignment, though, it appears the US teams will be split roughly into east, central, and west divisions. The Wild will be a part of the eight-team Central Division. They will be joined by just two of their usual divisional rivals: Chicago and Nashville. The new opponents will be Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, and Tampa Bay. Their other usual division rivals have moved either to the Canadian division (Winnipeg) or the western division (Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis).
At first glance, this new division looks like an advantage for the Wild. Last season’s Central Division featured St. Louis and Colorado, the second and third best teams in the league by point percentage, respectively. Instead of two top-three teams, they will instead share a division with last season’s fourth-best team in Tampa Bay, but the Lightning have not been a problem for the Wild historically. The Wild are 18-7-3 all time against Tampa Bay, including 4-0-0 the past two seasons. In addition, they will now share a division with Detroit, the clear worst team of the 2019-2020 season.
If there is a disadvantage to the current alignment, it’s probably the impact on travel. It is unclear how exactly the 2021 schedule will come together and how many times the Wild will head to play Tampa Bay and Florida, but it seems likely they will be making multiple trips down to Florida. Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida is roughly 1,300 miles away from St. Paul, and BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida is roughly 1,500 away. Normally, the Wild’s longest trip to a divisional rival is the fewer than 900 miles to Dallas. Even Raleigh, North Carolina, another destination the Wild figure to frequent during this upcoming season, is about 100 miles further away from St. Paul than that.
There are still several roadblocks in the way before the NHL can get ready to finally drop the puck on the 2021 season. Having divisions settled, if these are in fact the final divisional alignments, would mean we are one step closer to seeing the Wild back in action. In the meantime, we will just have to speculate as to how the Wild would fare in this new-look central division. Given that this alignment is not as top-heavy as the usual alignment, it seems like the Wild would have a good chance of being competitive in this division. Hopefully we will get to see whether or not that is in fact the case soon enough.
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