Toronto will remain in the same division as Montreal for the 2021 NHL season. However, changes produced by the coronavirus pandemic will generate a travel environment similar to the past. The Maple Leafs will play their home games at Air Canada Centre while the Canadiens will play their games at Bell Center. There is no venue sharing agreement in place between Toronto and Montreal.
The Vancouver Canucks will return to the ice this season after being forced to suspend their campaign last year due to health concerns over COVID-19. They will play their home games at Rogers Arena. The Calgary Flames will also play their 21st season in the league this year. Like the Canucks, they were forced to shut down operations last year due to the outbreak. They will play their home games at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Ottawa will host one game during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ottawa Senators will face off against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the series on May 11th at 7:00 PM ET on NBC. The winner of that game will go on to face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next round. The arena that will be used for that game will be determined during the playoffs when it's needed most.
Hamilton will host one game during the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.
With non-essential travel between the United States and Canada limited, the league temporarily rearranged its divisions to guarantee that its Canadian clubs could play in their home stadiums when the 56-game regular season began on Wednesday. Before the pandemic hit, Toronto was expected to be a contender this year, but now they're looking up at Montreal in the standings.
The Maple Leafs haven't had a winning record since 2017 and have not made the playoffs since 2016. Last year's lockout-shortened season was their first 100-loss campaign since 2003-04. The Canadiens are coming off their second consecutive Stanley Cup title victory.
Canada's largest city has been without a team since the Toronto Maple Leafs moved to Baltimore after the 1997-98 season. The move was meant to create more competitive balance in the NHL, but it also removed an important competitor from the division against which to compete for the Habs' fans. Since their inception in 1992-93, the Canadiens have won the Atlantic Division five times and have finished no lower than second place. The Maple Leafs used to play in the Metro Division along with the Montreal Canadians and Vancouver Canucks; however, that changed when the Capitals joined the division in 1998. Now, the Maple Leafs are part of the Atlantic Division along with the Bruins, Hurricanes, Islanders, and Senators.
The Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Final in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The divisions revert to their pre-COVID configuration in 2021-22, which means Montreal will now compete with four clubs who made the playoffs this year: Toronto, Boston, Florida, and Tampa Bay. The Canadiens finished first in the Atlantic Division but was not enough to secure a spot in the post-season.
In 2012-13, the Canadiens missed the playoffs for only the second time in 14 years. They returned the next season when Alexander Radulov joined the team as an unrestricted free agent. The Russian forward helped lead Montreal to its first President's Trophy since 1995-96 by scoring 46 goals and adding 79 assists for 115 points in 82 games.
Radulov's teammate Andrei Markov also had a strong season with 77 points, while goalie Carey Price won the Vezina Trophy after posting a league-best 2.01 GAA and a.932 save percentage. In 2013-14, Max Pacioretty scored 44 goals to lead the NHL in that category while Shea Weber not only led the Canadiens in points again but also won the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the league.
Pacioretty and Weber both missed some time this past season due to injuries but when they returned to the lineup the Habs were still one of the top teams in the NHL.
Due to the aforementioned uncertainty about when and if the border will reopen, having a Canadian club play between two and eight playoff games in an American location may be the best workaround the league can devise. Should the Leafs fail to make the playoffs, LeBrun has some ideas for the other teams: "I'd put money on Toronto being bought out by someone," he said. "I think Anaheim would do it. I think everyone would do it."
The problem with this scenario is that neither the Ducks nor the Predators have been playing very well of late, so it's unlikely that either one of them will be buying out players or going through any major reshuffling of their rosters. However, both clubs are known for being flexible with their contracts, so it's possible that someone could buy out key players like Ryan Getzlaf or Pekka Rinne and replace them with more capable replacements. Either way, it seems likely that at least one Canadian-based team will be participating in the post-season.
In fact, there are several reasons why a Canadian team might actually be better off playing in the NHL than in another league. The biggest advantage is probably the quality of play - there is no doubt that the NHL is considered by many to be the best hockey league in the world. But beyond that, there are also financial advantages - especially if you include the lack of income tax in Canada.