( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

by Matt Barry  |  Follow me on Twitter @oobcards

As the National Hockey League continues to evaluate a plan to begin the 2021-22 season, much of how they proceed could depend on travel restrictions that could still be in place between the United States and Canada. The league is targeting a possible January 1st start date for the regular season with camps opening in December. If teams are not able to cross the border, that will leave the league with a decision to make. At that point, the NHL could realign into four different divisions, with all the Canadian teams together.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, recently announced that the Canadian border would be closed to United States residents until the U.S. gains control of the Covid-19 virus. This announcement puts into question whether the National Hockey League will have exceptions and be able to travel freely from Canada to America. If restrictions are not lifted for NHL players, the league could be forced to create a Canadian-only division. Commissioner Gary Bettman could abolish the conference setup and create three divisions of American teams and one division, including all teams from Canada. In this case, we can analyze how this new alignment could affect the Boston Bruins.

Regardless of which teams are included in the new “Atlantic Divison,” the Bruins would not have two tough opponents to deal with in the division. The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs would be playing in the Canadian Division. The Canadiens have made very shrewd moves this offseason, which include acquiring winger Josh Anderson, signing forward Tyler Toffoli, and also trading for defenseman Joel Edmundson. Anderson and Toffoli could add size and scoring punch to a Montreal lineup that struggled to score last season. Both players were coveted by the Bruins and could have created a challenge for Boston within the division. Edmundson adds an experienced defenseman to the mix.

Toronto has been a division rival for the Bruins and appears to be making a final push to make a Stanley Cup run. The Maple Leafs are talented and should be hungry entering next season. The Leafs have also been eliminated by the Bruins in years past and would like nothing more than to avenge those heartbreaking losses. A season without having to face Auston Matthews and John Tavares are very attractive to the Bruins. Without Montreal and Toronto in their division, the Bruins would avoid two rivals who are very hard to play against. Instead, the Bruins could be competing against teams like Florida, New Jersey, and Detroit, which is a far less challenging schedule.

Regardless of how the divisions look in the end, most decisions will be based upon geographical proximity. In that case, the only addition that would be much of a burden to Boston could be the New York Islanders. If the Islanders join the Bruins in the Atlantic, Boston could see more of Matthew Barzal, who the team passed over in the 2015 draft not once, but three times. With that being said, a regional structure change would benefit the Bruins just from addition by subtraction. Not having to play Montreal and Toronto is a big change to the schedule and one that could make things a lot easier on Bruce Cassidy’s team. Time will tell what the divisions could look like or if bubble locations will be selected. But there is a good chance the Bruins could find the new divisions to be advantageous to their pursuit of a Stanley Cup.