The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a slew of games postponed due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Most recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the St. Louis Blues has been delayed as the NHL announced that all games between Canadian and American teams have been postponed until after the Christmas holiday break. Later it was announced that all NHL games would be postponed until at least December 27th.
But what then? The Omicron variant is quickly spreading. Case counts are drastically rising and it doesn’t look like the situation will resolve any time soon as things continue to escalate.
It’s too early to know what will happen next, but is there a possibility of another border closure between Canada and the USA? Though there are similarities between the neighboring countries, one huge difference is the way the two nations have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Will the Toronto Maple Leafs Re-Join the North Division?
During the last US/Canada border closure, the NHL elected to form an all Canadian North Division to eliminate cross border travel and follow federal protocol.
At first fans were generally excited by the Canada-centric match ups and the mini playoff-like series teams would play against each other. The Toronto Maple Leafs formed some great rivalries against teams they usual don’t play much in a typical season: the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
Usually, the Toronto Maple Leafs would only plays these teams twice in a season, but playing each team eight times during the season created more tension and made the battles more heated.
By the end of the year, it seemed like the majority of fans were looking forward to returning to normal. Many grew tired of seeing the same seven teams duke it out and missed seeing the other teams and players throughout the NHL.
I personally really enjoyed the new rivalries formed in the North Division and now that we’ve had a break from that (a brief return to normalcy), I’d welcome re-formed all Canadian hockey.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers were my favourite match-up last season with all the superstar talent like Connor McDavid, Leon Draitsaitl, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner… and things could get even more heated with Zach Hyman switching sides in the matchup. The Winnipeg Jets were another great matchup for the Toronto Maple Leafs
Battles between Atlantic Division rivals like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins provide some great hockey, but as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, they are often as aggravating as they are entertaining.
The Toronto Maple Leafs vs the New North Division
With the emergence of the Calgary Flames and the recent seeming resurgence of the Vancouver Canucks under new coach, Bruce Boudreau, a new North Division could also be more competitive than last season. The current standings would look like this:
Toronto Maple Leafs (20-8-2 = 42 points)
Calgary Flames (15-7-6 = 36 points)
Edmonton Oilers (18-11-0 = 36 points)
Winnipeg Jets (14-11-5 = 33 points)
Vancouver Canucks (14-15-2 = 30 points)
Ottawa Senators (9-17-2 = 20 points)
Montreal Canadiens (7-21-3 = 17 points)
With the Seattle Kraken entering the league this season, the four current NHL divisions each have an even eight teams, so they could keep things even by temporarily moving a US team to a Canadian city like the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors did in the MLB and NBA last year.
Perhaps a US team struggling with attendance would even be more profitable with a temporary move to Canada. The Buffalo Sabres have the worst attendance in the NHL this season with an average attendance of 8,492.
First Ontario Place in Hamilton, Ontario isn’t far from Buffalo with a capacity of 17,383. Even if Ontario arenas revert to 50% capacity, more Canadian fans would attend games to watch the Sabres play any Canadian team in Hamilton (and at a higher price) than Sabres fans attending games in Buffalo.
The re-emergence of the North Division may not happen, but with Covid case counts skyrocketing to new unseen heights, it is a possibility. There hasn’t been any indication by the NHL that this is the direction that things are headed, but under the circumstances, I wouldn’t be surprised if a revert to last season’s temporary divisional realignment was announced soon.