Foley on possible NHL 2020-21 plans: All-Canadian division, Feb. start?

A lot of possibilities are likely flying around as the NHL attempts to pull off a 2020-21 season, and Golden Knights owner Bill Foley hinted at some fascinating options. During a Wednesday interview on KSHP Radio Las Vegas, Foley mentioned the possibility of the NHL going with an all-Canadian division, as well as a possible Feb. 1 start to the 2020-21 regular season.

David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that NHL Bill Daly offered a no comment response to a variety of Foley’s revelations.

That makes total sense. Even if there’s a strong leaning toward an all-Canadian division, and for the 2020-21 NHL season to start around Feb. 1 instead of Jan. 1, a lot can change in mere weeks, let alone months.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s ponder some of those possibilities.

All-Canadian division for the 2020-21 NHL season?

Being that the U.S. – Canadian border closure continues to be extended, Foley may indeed be hinting at a necessary NHL plan for the 2020-21 season.

“I don’t think that border is going to be open before Jan. 1, if it’s open Jan. 1,” Foley said, via David Schoen’s transcription. “They’re starting to lock down again. Winnipeg’s locking down. Quebec has got spikes going on. I think they’re going to be playing a Canadian division. I don’t think they’re going to be crossing the border.”

Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently stated that “The U.S. is not in a place where we would feel comfortable reopening those borders.”

While the U.S. continues to report alarming COVID-19 rates (including 215,194 deaths), Canada’s seen a spike as well. Overall, it’s going to be tough to travel, and Foley discussed how important it is to play in front of fans. All of that sounds difficult to pull off.

It’s a tiny point, but an all-Canadian division at least works out reasonably well from a sheer numbers standpoint. If the Canadiens, Canucks, Flames, Jets, Maple Leafs, Oilers, and Senators played in an all-Canadian NHL division, that would match the seven-team Central Division, at least numbers-wise. Not bad, at least when your options are limited.

Amusingly, Foley dropped that bombshell while being asked about the Golden Knights facing recently traded defenseman Nate Schmidt. Here’s the full interview with KSHP Radio Las Vegas, by the way:

Possible schedule for next season: as many as 4-5 games per week?

In another interesting observation, Foley brought up the possibility of the 2020-21 NHL season starting in February. (Foley was promoting the logic behind keeping both Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury.)

Foley mentioned that a possible plan squeezing in the season, starting in early February, while avoiding conflicting with the Summer Olympics.

“If we play 56 games in four months, that’s a lot of games,” Foley said, via the Sporting News’ Jackie Spiegel. “There’s not going to be a break. There’s going to be a lot of back-to-backs. In theory, we’re going to play four games a week to get this season done. Maybe even more — five games a week.”

As Foley mentioned, such a schedule would indeed make it important to deploy two viable goalies.

In addition, such a setup would challenge coaches. If you have older players, do you rest them for full games? Limit their ice time? Does this make it even tougher to get younger skaters up to speed, and comfortable with your system?

From the higher-level NHL logistical questions about travel and fans attending games, to day-to-day lineup questions, the 2020-21 season poses a wide swath of challenges. One can only imagine the many options the NHL must be pondering (Plans A-Z, perhaps?).

In detailing a possible all-Canadian division and Feb. 1 start to the 2020-21 NHL season, Foley mentioned plans that at least sound plausible. But it’s all subject to changes, and many might not be voluntary.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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