By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
With a Canadian division looking like an inevitability as the NHL preps for a second season in The Coronavirus Age, the league’s 24 United States-based franchises find themselves in a state of flux.
But a region-based division format is beginning to take its complete shape for those 24 clubs, according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, and it could come with a potential boost for the Boston Bruins.
Even if it’s at the expense of their recent, well-established rivalries.
According to Wyshynski, it’s looking like the Bruins will find themselves in an ‘East’ division featuring the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals.
This shake-up would essentially see the Bruins (and Sabres) move into what is now the Metropolitan Division, with the three New York City area teams replacing the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Senators and the Hurricanes and Capitals replacing the Florida-based Panthers and Lightning. In this model, the Flyers play the role of the Red Wings. In other words, you’re essentially ditching your rivalries with the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Lightning for renewed rivalries with the Rangers, Flyers, and Capitals. (Back-to-back postseason meetings with the Hurricanes, while dominated by the Bruins, would definitely bill them as a rival as well, but that’s not really the point.)
On the surface, this seems like an insanely difficult division, I admit. You’re removing the hapless Red Wings and Senators from the division (the Bruins have gone 16-5-1 against these teams over the last three years), and though the Stanley Cup champion Lightning are out of the picture, the Bruins would get more head-to-heads with the Flyers and Capitals, two teams right behind Tampa in 2020.
But, again, this may actually be a win for the Bruins.
If this is indeed their division next year, it’s worth mentioning that the Bruins went 13-1-5 against these opponents in 2019-20 (17-2-5 if you include the five-game postseason series with Carolina). The Bruins also outscored these teams 63-38 over that 19-game sample, and have history on their side against more than a couple of these opponents.
Over the last three years, the Bruins have compiled a 20-3-4 record against the Devils-Islanders-Rangers trifecta. And Tuukka Rask has been downright dominant against the Islanders, understandably regarded as the best of those three teams, too.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that the Bruins have gone 25-6-3 against the Atlantic’s Canadian counterparts over that same stretch, but you’re talking about an 81.5 point percentage against the NYC teams versus a 77.9 point percentage against Eastern Canada. You’re also talking about fewer head-to-heads with a Montreal team that got noticeably better this offseason, and a Toronto team that’s been doing their best to close the gap against the Bruins. (They have to get there eventually, right? Right? *nods without a damn clue because the Maple Leafs excel at pissing their pants and pissing their pants only.*)
This feels like a wash, if not an advantage, for the Black and Gold.
In the case of the Lightning against the Capitals, it’s sorta like asking if you wanna be beheaded or merely dismembered. But like the Bruins, the Capitals are getting a bit long in the tooth, and lost B’s killer Braden Holtby to free agency. Take Holtby and his career .939 save percentage against the Bruins out of the equation and this rivalry feels closer. And the Bruins still have no clue how to handle the Bolts’ Brayden Point and the Tampa defense is still made up of Redwood trees.
The Panthers-for-Hurricanes swap feels like a push, too. The Panthers have had some better efforts against the Bruins in recent years, and while the Hurricanes are a definite threat that’s only improving, they still haven’t solved their biggest issue against the Bruins, which has been goaltending. (The Bruins have scored 32 goals on 281 shots in their nine playoff head-to-heads with the Hurricanes since 2019, and the ‘Canes still have Petr Mrazek and James Reimer in net.)
The biggest difference comes with a Detroit-for-Philadelphia swap, which obviously hurts the Bruins.
The Flyers have emerged as one of the few teams who can match the Bruins down the middle, and if Kevin Hayes can continue to be what Kevin Hayes was a year ago, it by all means wipes out the advantages of a Charlie Coyle third line. But these teams have always played what feel like coin-flip contests, with Boston holding a 6-1-5 record against Philly over the last four seasons, and with the scoring differential favoring the Bruins by just 10 goals over that 12-game sample.
Even as we all continue panic about the B’s uncertain future, the Bruins feel like (at worst) the third-best team in this division. Especially when you factor in Boston’s goaltending advantage in a truncated schedule expected to feature several back-to-backs.
It also beats the hell out of the alternative, with a new-look ‘Central’ putting Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville, St. Louis, Columbus, and Pittsburgh in the same division for 2020-21. (The Bruins have gone a combined 24-18-9 against those six teams over the last three seasons, in case you’re wondering.)
The NHL is still targeting a Jan. 1 start for next season.
Listen to Ty Anderson and Matt Dolloff talk about the NHL’s temporary realignment in the podcast below.