An NHL division consisting of the seven teams based in Canada is going to be “awesome,” Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said.
“It’s going to be way over the top because the Canadian media, all the web sites, all the talk will be about the Canadian teams,” Maurice said earlier this month. “I think it’s also great for the Canadian teams in that it’s going to be a little bit old-school, that it’s going to be just about us. There will be a vibe to that that’s awesome.”
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced Sunday they had approved a plan for a 56-game season that will begin on Jan. 13, 2021. Because of restrictions at the United States-Canada border caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL realigned its divisions for this season. The North Division will feature the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Jets and Vancouver Canucks. They will play a 56-game schedule with each team playing each other nine or 10 times.
The schedule will be divisional play only, with the top four teams in the division qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Having coached two of those teams, Maurice is well acquainted with the rivalries. He was coach of the Maple Leafs from 2006-08 and has coached the Jets since Jan. 13, 2014.
“There’s going to be seven teams (in the division) and maybe rivalries develop that maybe we didn’t even anticipate,” he said. “Canadian fans are going to get an opportunity to know all of these teams so much better.
Maurice isn’t the only one excited about the North Division.
Oilers forward Alex Chiasson, who has also played for the Senators and Flames, told TSN last week he’s eager to get started in these unique circumstances.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it … just Canadian teams playing each other,” Chiasson said. “Is it ever going to happen again? If not, let’s make the most of it.”
During a recent edition of the NHL @TheRink podcast, Canadiens coach Claude Julien said the battle for the four playoff spots in the North Division will be intense.
“Growing up in Canada and being a Canadian, there is excitement there because it’s different, it’s short term, could be just for a year if it happens,” Julien said. “The thing that I’m looking at the most now, as a coach living in the present, is how competitive that would be because most of the teams, I would say, with very few exceptions, are all teams that feel they are competitive and feel they should be playoff teams.”
That competition and an increased familiarity with division rivals will lead to more emotional games, Flames captain Mark Giordano told Sportsnet.
“It’s going to be a pretty cool year for the fans,” Giordano said. “Playing each other more often creates that rivalry and hatred for the other team. You look at the NFL playing 16 games and every game feels like a playoff game. At 56 games there’s no room for a slide.
“In a regular season you can lose six or seven in a row and make it up, but there’ no room for that this year. I think that’s going to bring out the best in teams — it’s going to be super competitive.”
Chiasson said he believes it will be a daily grind for each team in the North Division.
“It’s going to be very tough division … I know people will say Ottawa is rebuilding but they’ve added some pieces,” he said. “There’s no freebies in there.”
Maurice said having some of the biggest names in the NHL playing each other on a nightly basis in a division made up solely of teams from Canada will make the season that more special.
“There are some rock-star kids on these teams,” Maurice said. “You start with Elias Pettersson (of the Canucks) and then Connor McDavid (of the Oilers) and Sean Monahan (of the Flames) and Mark Scheifele (of the Jets),” Maurice said. “Look at Toronto, what they’ve got, and Ottawa’s got all these kids coming and then the changeover in Montreal, that big back end and those young kids down the middle. There’s not a team in Canada that doesn’t have legitimate superstars on their team and when you’re a kid growing up, well, that’s what I remember. It’s going to be great.”