Ask any fan who their team’s rival is and they’ll immediately have an answer. From Washington and Washington State to the Seahawks and the 49ers, the Seattle sports scene is no exception.
Some rivalries are formed from successful teams and back-and-forth games. Most often, though, they are born through simple geography. So when the Seattle Kraken take the ice for their inaugural NHL season this fall, a rivalry will likely emerge from right across the border.
The Kraken will instantly become Vancouver’s closest geographical rival. Until now, the Canucks had Calgary — located more than 500 miles away — as their closest opponent. But Seattle and Vancouver are separated by less than 200 miles.
Since the Canucks and Kraken are slated to be in the same division, they will play at least four times a season. Plus, due to the close proximity, fans from either team should be able to easily travel to away games. Combined with the excitement over Seattle’s first season, the atmosphere should be boisterous.
But just how easy will it be to for opposing fans to make the trip this season? And will Canadian teams be able to play in their original divisions at all?
That’s still to be determined.
During the COVID-19-disrupted 2020-21 season, the NHL created a North Division that consisted only of Canadian teams. The division was created in 2020 due to the closed border between Canada and the United States. The full 2020-21 season and the first two rounds of the playoffs were played between the seven Canadian teams.
How the divisions will look in 2021-22 depends largely on the reduction of cross-border travel restrictions.
Canada has set a 75% vaccination rate as a target for border reopening, according to WBFO. Currently, 19.30% of the Canadian population has been fully vaccinated. In the United States, that number is 46.4%. Canada announced in June that it was extending the closure of its border with the United States until at least July 21.
“Our number one priority as we fight #COVID19 is keeping Canadians safe. In coordination with the U.S., we are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel and with the United States until July 21st, 2021,” Canadian Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair tweeted.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke about a reopening at the G-7 Summit in June, according to CTVNews. But Reuters later reported the leaders did not have any major breakthroughs on the details.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is among several American political figures pushing for a solution, the Bellingham Herald reported. In June, Inslee sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas pushing for at least a partial reopening. Most of Washington state’s COVID-19 restrictions were lifted on June 30.
“If a full border opening is not considered feasible, I would like to recommend that we prioritize the development of specific policies to partially open crossings,” Inslee wrote. “The hardships being experienced along the U.S.-Canadian border are significant, and measurable forward progress is needed.”
While a phased border reopening is scheduled to begin on July 5, the looser restrictions are for fully vaccinated citizens, residents and other eligible individuals. Trudeau has yet to give a timeline for a full reopening.
But even though the NHL will have a busy month between the Expansion Draft on July 21 and the Entry Draft on July 23-24, the league reportedly hopes to start the season on Oct. 12. That leaves months for the border to open, paving the way for a new rivalry to begin.