The 2020-21 NHL season will be different in a lot of ways, and for the Boston Bruins, one of the strangest aspects of the upcoming campaign is the absence of games against rivals such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
The league, based on travel restrictions in Canada stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, had to put all seven Canadian franchises in one division for next season. This means the Bruins won't be in the same division with the Leafs, Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
You could argue the Leafs and Canadiens are Boston's two biggest rivals right now. Montreal hasn't been a great team in recent seasons, but those matchups are always emotional regardless of where those teams sit in the standings. The Leafs are the Bruins' most intense rival based on recent events, most notably three first-round playoff series over the last decade that Boston won in Game 7 each time.
Zero games against the Leafs and Canadiens doesn't mean the Bruins will lack rivalry games this season. Quite the opposite, actually.
Boston's new division will give it an opportunity to rekindle old rivalries and potentially create news ones.
"I don't think it will take long to get those rivalries built up," Bruins president Cam Neely said in a Zoom call with reporters Monday.
"Obviously there's history between Boston and the Rangers for years. When they play here, we play there, there's a lot of fans of both teams. I think the recent history we've had with Philly in the playoffs, that will spark some rivalry. I mean playing these teams that many times guys will be sick of each other in a hurry."
Here's a look at the East division for the upcoming season: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
The Bruins have squared off against the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals in at least one playoff series over the last 10 years. This playoff history goes back 50 years, too, including Stanley Cup Final showdowns with both the Flyers and Rangers in the 1970s. The B's have had a divisional rivalry with the Sabres for decades, in addition to their own memorable playoff series. The Bruins and Rangers also have the Boston vs. New York angle going.
This new division also includes four of the top seven teams (Bruins No. 1, Capitals No. 5, Flyers No. 6, Penguins No. 7) in the overall regular season standings from last year. The Islanders also earned a playoff. berth The Rangers drafted elite prospect Alexis Lafrenière with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and the Sabres signed top free agent forward Taylor Hall.
The East could be the most competitive division in the league this season, and Neely was right -- with eight games against each divisional opponent, the bad blood between these teams will appear quickly.
So, while it's disappointing the Bruins won't play the Leafs and Canadiens four times each in the regular season, the playoff format makes a Bruins vs. Leafs or Bruins vs. Canadiens matchup in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final possible.
That would be awesome.