The Issue of the Canadian-American Joint Leagues


Talia Goodman, Managing Editor

Managing professional sports during the COVID-19 pandemic was sure to be complex. And indeed, as many sports start back up again in a completely new format, we are seeing just how complex the picture is. 

One of the most recent complications is the ban on non-essential travel between Canada and America, which first went into effect in March 2020.  

Of the four major professional sports leagues, only one, the NFL, doesn’t include a Canadian team. They’re safe on this one. Although their COVID-19 testing results suggest they are anything but safe from this pandemic. 

Fortunately, the MLB’s season is over and won’t begin again until Spring 2021, so baseball and the Toronto Bluejays are free from this problem for now. I’m sure they will sit back, enjoy the chaos and simply follow other leagues in their handling of the travel restrictions, if they are still in place next Spring. 

That leaves our two friends: the NBA and the NHL. These leagues have an issue on their hands.

The NBA has recently released a more concrete plan on how it will be handling its single Canadian team, the Toronto Raptors. Here’s what we know: 

On November 20, Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri released a statement detailing the decision to relocate and start the 2020-21 season playing in Tampa, Florida. The decision was made after meeting with Canadian health officials. He acknowledged the difficulties present due the urgency to make this decision amid the current public health crisis throughout North America. Travel bans have been in place since March 25, and as of now, the pandemic is spiking to enormous heights. 

The NHL hasn’t yet released a plan on their handling of Canadian teams, but there have been mumblings of an all-Canadian division, due to the travel restrictions and convenience of having seven Canadian teams, seemingly enough to form a season-long division.

Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic talks readers through his idea of what this would look like, come playoff time:

They’ll likely adopt a system which mirrors the days of the 21-team NHL. I expect all seven Canadian teams will be grouped in a single, above-the-49th parallel division, with the top four teams qualifying for the playoffs. Playoffs will take place within the divisions. Once four divisional champions emerge, only then will they venture outside their divisions to play the semifinal round. That’ll be June. If border-crossing restrictions are eased by then, it’s possible the semifinal and final rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs could look normal.”

It’s hard to say which is the easier situation: A single Canadian team, or seven. On the one hand, relocating one team in the NBA is a much simpler task than if the NHL were to attempt to move all seven of its Canadian teams. But if the Canadian division comes to fruition, it could prove to be a great opportunity to spark old rivalries and up the entertainment factor of the sport by creating all new divisions league-wide.