Neither the Islanders nor the Rangers will need to travel far if the NHL is able to stage a 2020-21 season.
Nothing has been finalized, but temporary NHL realignment was discussed during Wednesday’s informational Board of Governors meeting. An NHL source confirmed the 31 teams will be reorganized geographically into four divisions — with all games being played within the division — to limit travel as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Islanders and Rangers will be in a division with the Devils, Boston, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. The seven Canadian teams will comprise another division because of the U.S.-Canada border restrictions.
The NHL is aiming to play a truncated, 56-game regular season beginning on Jan. 13, following a 10-day training camp that will not include preseason games. Another Board of Governors meeting is scheduled for next week to vote on the return-to-play structure.
A major financial hurdle was cleared earlier this week when the league and the NHL Players’ Association agreed to play under the economic guidelines set in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in July. In November, the NHL had sought increased salary deferrals and escrow charges from the players.
"We’re not going to play 82 games, obviously, and we have travel issues because of the restrictions at the border between Canada and the U.S.," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in an online interview with The Maccabi USA Sports Show on Tuesday. "You can’t go back and forth, so we’re actually going to have to realign."
Also on Wednesday, Forbes released its annual valuations of the NHL franchises.
The Rangers, valued at $1.65 billion, are the league’s most valuable team and Forbes determined that the NHL’s top five most valuable teams, including Toronto ($1.5 billion), Montreal ($1.34 billion), Chicago ($1.085 billion) and Boston ($1 billion), accounted for approximately a quarter of the league’s revenue.
Forbes determined the Islanders lost $39 million in 2019-20, the most of any team. Yet their valuation remained the same at $520 million and Forbes noted better economic times loom for the franchise with its pending move to UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
The Islanders were ranked the 16th-most valuable franchise in the 31-team NHL.
Overall, Forbes said the average NHL team value fell by 2% — attributable to the pandemic which forced the postseason to be played in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto without fans in the arenas — marking the first decline since 2001. The league revenue of $4.4 billion was down 14% from 2018-19.