Yesterday, ESPN+ released a column regarding the potential division realignments for the upcoming 2020-2021 NHL season. Much like everything else that has to do with the upcoming season, these realignments are speculative. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the NHL searches for new solutions during unique times. New obstacles due to travel restrictions mean that teams who usually would be division rivals may not be in 2020-2021. If these NHL divisional realignments are indeed accurate, it’ll be weird without a divisional rivalry between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Instead of featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets as division rivals, 2020-2021 could substitute them with the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. That would shift the Penguins and Blue Jackets to the central division. The Bruins and Sabres move to the eastern division, which for a realignment based on travel restrictions makes sense. After all, Boston and Buffalo are more eastern than Pittsburgh and Columbus. The only central division teams that seem lost in translation are the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.
What Does The Realignment Mean For The Philadelphia Flyers?
Perhaps if you were to ask the Columbus Blue Jackets following the 2019-2020 season, it means that they are out of the Philadelphia Flyers’ stranglehold. Since the Blue Jackets leave to the central division in 2020-2021, the Flyers don’t have the opportunity to boost their winning percentage. Considering that Philadelphia was undefeated against Columbus in 2019-2020, that’s one negative to pull away from this realignment.
In the spirit of the “reverse retro” jerseys hitting the market, the Philadelphia Flyers do have an opportunity to rekindle a rivalry from the early 2000s. The Buffalo Sabres dismantled the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal in 2001. I liked Roman Cechmanek, and Eric Lindros was on a tear that season, but the Sabres sent Philadelphia home with their tails between their legs. Ten years later, the Flyers sent Buffalo home in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. Never forget Ville Leino, the specific Philadelphia double-agent, when discussing a Sabres rivalry.
Boston in the eastern division will allow the Philadelphia Flyers to have a legitimate rivalry in place of Pittsburgh. Do you think Brad Marchand has night terrors about missing the puck as it stood still on center ice at the Wells Fargo Center? I bet he does in the same way Bruins fans have nightmares about squandering that three-games-to-none lead in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Still, the 2020-2021 NHL season won’t feel the same without the Pennsylvania rivalry. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the right to claim bragging rights after the 2019-2020 season. They’ll play each other maybe once in an abbreviated season as non-divisional opponents. Imagine the pressure and consider that if the Philadelphia Flyers are victorious, they’ll not only have bragging rights, but they’ll be undefeated against the Penguins.
Mandatory Credit – Alex McIntyre