Could NHL’s 7 Canadian teams be forced to move stateside for 2021 season?

(Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Perhaps we might see a Bruins/Maple Leafs rematch this winter after all?

Despite multiple reports that mapped out a framework in which the NHL's seven Canadian-based teams would play exclusively in their own division as part of a regional realignment measure for the 2021 season, it appears as though spiking cases of COVID-19 across North America — and the rapidly shifting protocols put in place across Canada — might severely augment those plans.

According to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, the NHL is exploring a potential contingency plan in which all seven of its Canadian clubs (Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Senators, Jets, Flames, Oilers and Canucks) will head south and play the entirety of the 2021 campaign within the United States. Such a drastic move will likely only come as a last resort, although the NHL is currently grappling with provincial health authorities in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia over the best way to safely get a new season off the ground across the entire country.

The closing of the U.S./Canadian border prompted the need for an All-Canadian division in 2021, but if there is not a universal agreement between the provincial authorities that will easily facilitate travel and other necessary requirements for these seven NHL teams this season, moving down to the U.S. might be the best option for all involved. But just because it's the best option, doesn't mean it won't cause a monumental headache for all involved — especially with the league still aiming for a Jan. 13 start to the new season (a likelihood that dims with each new day).

This is far from the first time that a Canadian-based sports franchise has been forced to relocate this year due to COVID-19 and the subsequent health requirements in place up north. The Toronto Blue Jays were forced to play in Buffalo this past season, while the Toronto Raptors will relocate to Tampa for the upcoming 2020-21 NBA campaign.

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