In a condensed regular season in 2021, teams and fans alike got to know other divisional teams very well. Your favorite team had the luxury of facing off against the same seven teams (six teams if your favorite team resided in what was the North division this year) at least eight times during the regular season. Teams were sick of each other and, man, was it refreshing.
The direct results heading into this postseason were the rekindling of a historic rivalry between Montreal and Toronto, who hadn’t met in the playoffs since the 1979 season. I’m sure we all remember that one. And, what came as a surprise to most, the battle of Florida had been born. Heading into the first round of the 2021 playoffs I don’t think many people had the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning listed as a must watch. A cross state rivalry has finally been born between these two teams since their inception into the league back in the early 90’s.
Will we see more NHL divisional games in 2021-2022?
In an interview with The Athletic earlier this year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stated that the expectation is the league will return to its original divisions prior to the realignment that took place this year. The same goes for scheduling as he expects teams to return to a full 82-game schedule. However, while he did mention the amount of inter-division play brought on by the condensed season may not be sustainable in a full 82-game season, Bettman did note that they may focus on divisional play going forward.
What could this look like?
This could mean that, in an 82-game regular season, teams in the Eastern and Western conferences could go back to seeing each other once per season, if at all, like they did prior to the scheduling change that was introduced in the 2013-2014 season. Thus, opening the door for more NHL divisional games.
As a die hard Bruins fan, give me more Bruins-Habs/Bruins-Leafs/Bruins-Bolts and less Bruins-Coyotes/Bruins-Sharks. And as a fan of the occasional regular season game not involving my favorite team, I’m way more inclined to tune in if it’s two teams that I know have a history. Pens/Caps, Pens/Flyers, Kings/Flames, the Battle of Alberta. You name it, as a fan of the game and as long as I can get my hands on the stream, I’m watching it. Let the hate and disdain between divisional foes boil over right into the playoffs. Plus, what better way to get the newly formed Seattle Kraken acquainted with their new home in the Pacific division than to continuously pin them up against the same seven teams in their inaugural season?
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