The NHL came to its senses a tiny bit by pushing back the Vancouver Canucks’ return to the ice, but a team that already has a minuscule chance of making the playoffs still will be asked to play a grueling gauntlet of a schedule to close out the season.
It’s time to get real and call it off. Not just for the Canucks, who still won’t be anywhere near full strength when they face the Maple Leafs on Sunday and Tuesday, but for the entire North Division.
With COVID-19 now the worst it’s been in Canada (led by spiraling Ontario) at any point of the pandemic, a higher caseload than the United States, and a slow vaccine rollout due to lack of manufacturing capability, having teams continue to criss-cross the country to finish the regular season is a risk that simply is not worth taking, and ending the Canadian season now would allow the league to better prepare for what really matters in hockey, the playoffs.
Get the top four Canadian teams to the United States, just as the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays are here now, let them quarantine, and then they can practice, play a couple of games, and get ready to start the playoffs at the same time as everyone else in mid-May.
For the sake of ease of travel and knowing that rinks will be available for the playoffs, the Maple Leafs, Jets, Oilers, and Canadiens can temporarily relocate to Buffalo, Columbus, Detroit, and New Jersey.
It’s true that nothing has been mathematically settled in the North Division, but it’s perfectly clear who the best four teams are. The gap between fourth-place Montreal and fifth-place Calgary is only four points, but the Flames have played three more games, the Canadiens have a .563-.477 edge in points percentage, and the Habs’ goal differential is plus-9 to the Flames’ minus-12.
Four of Canada’s teams have over-.500 records and positive goal differentials. Three are under .500 and have been outscored. Sure, in an ideal scenario, you’d play the rest of the season, but this isn’t an ideal scenario.
The best thing the NHL can do to ensure the safety of everyone involved with the league is to do the same thing it did last year: Get everyone on the safer side of the border. Only, now, that’s the southern side. It’s not perfect — the Colorado Avalanche’s next three games are postponed due to COVID — but it’s the best option available.
And, hey, maybe the Maple Leafs in Buffalo would cancel out the team’s and city’s demons… wouldn’t it be something if they finally won their first Stanley Cup since 1967 while temporarily playing in America’s most cursed sports town?