We are officially two weeks away from the start of another exciting, but very different, NHL season!
If you’ve been following the NHL offseason, you know by now that the league was forced to realign the four divisions in order to accommodate the Canada-USA border restrictions that continue to be in place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That realignment includes a brand new all-Canadian division, with all 7 Canadian teams making up their own temporary division for this coming season. Due to the Canadian federal government not allowing travel into the United States, this season will feature interdivisional matchups for all 56 games, meaning that every Canadian team will face one another nine or ten times from January to May.
With almost every Canadian team improving one way or another, the North Division becomes arguably the toughest of the remodeled divisions to predict. In this article we will forecast the final standings of this division and break down some key moves that each team made in the offseason.
NORTH DIVISION FINAL STANDINGS PREDICTION
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Edmonton Oilers
3. Vancouver Canucks
4. Calgary Flames
5. Winnipeg Jets
6. Ottawa Senators
7. Montreal Canadiens
The 2020-21 North Division Head-to-Head Breakdown showing the number of games each team will play against one another. | via NHL.com
Whether you want to believe it or not, the Maple Leafs got better in the offseason, no matter how you look at it. They added more depth to an already deadly offensive group by signing Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey and Joe Thornton, and they beefed up their blue line by picking up free agent defensemen TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian. Toronto also got some more relief for their workhorse starting goalie Frederick Andersen by signing backup goaltender Aaron Dell.
The Leafs didn’t lose a whole lot of players either, the biggest name leaving Toronto being Tyson Barrie. However, the signings of Brodie and Bogosian will more than make up for the loss of Barrie.
Some of you may hate to hear it, but the Maple Leafs will be a very good team this year. Plus, this will be a team with a lot to prove. The team has been competitive for the past 4 seasons but has never been able to make it out of the first round of the postseason. With a revised divisional format and revised playoffs, this may finally be the year Toronto ends their first-round curse.
Dom Luszczyszyn / The Athletic
Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland inherited a messy organization when he became the team’s 10th General Manager in the spring of 2019. Since his hiring, he has made some great depth signings to help make this team better. It’s no easy task trying to find someone to play alongside the fastest and most dynamic player in the NHL, Connor McDavid, and his German sidekick Leon Draisaitl, two of the best players in the league. Holland brought in a forward this offseason that he believes can be that guy, Dominik Kahun. Ironically, Kahun, also a native of Germany, was a linemate of Draisaitl in junior in their home country, so they already have chemistry from their younger years.
The Oilers also picked up free agent blueliner Tyson Barrie, a talented defenceman who will definitely be an asset to an already lethal Oilers power play. Kyle Turris, another forward picked up in free agency, will provide a solid depth role in Edmonton’s bottom-six.
To me, there are two huge question marks surrounding the Oilers 2020-21 season: will goaltending duo Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith be able to compete with the other high-caliber goaltenders in the North Division? The other question is: how will the Oilers overcome the adversity of losing their top defenceman Oscar Klefbom, who recently announced he will miss the entire season with an injury? The fate of the Oilers season lies on how they respond to those.
Tracey Myers / NHL.com
One of three Canadian teams to pick up a new starting goaltender this offseason, the Vancouver Canucks are looking to build on their last season, which saw them lose in seven games in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. The Canucks lost goaltender Jacob Markstrom in free agency, but quickly replaced him with highly-touted free agent goalie Braden Holtby. The signing of Holtby was a great one for the Canucks, as they receive a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender with tons of experience.
The Canucks lost free agent defenceman Chris Tanev but were able to pluck Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights, a solid replacement blueliner to make up for Tanev’s absence. Plus, the Canucks have a young stud sophomore defenceman in Quinn Hughes, who will only get better as he gains experience. They did lose top-six forward Tyler Toffoli, but should still have enough pieces to fill in that gap.
This season will be a huge test for the Canucks, as they will play in probably the most competitive and unpredictable division in the new revised format. Playing 9 games against offensive powerhouses like the Leafs and Oilers will definitely show how far they have come as a team. Vancouver is still very competitive, and it will be exciting to see how far Head Coach Travis Green can lead his squad.
Dom Luszczyszyn / The Athletic
After shipping starting goalie Cam Talbot to Minnesota and snatching up Jacob Markstrom in free agency as his replacement, it’s safe to say the Calgary Flames have improved between the pipes. That being said, will the Flames be able to compete with other high-octane Canadian teams in the extremely competitive North Division?
Calgary lost veteran defenceman TJ Brodie in free agency, but filled that void by signing Chris Tanev. The Flames were also busy signing some depth third and fourth line players to keep their forward group intact. The team removed the interim tag on Head Coach Geoff Ward after he took over for Bill Peters mid-season and led the Flames to the first round of playoffs. Overall, this is a skilled team looking to build on their 2019-20 performance.
The biggest question lingering around the Flames is whether the team can stay healthy during a condensed 56-game schedule. With a ton of back-to-backs and all 56 games crammed in to just under 4 months, it will be a gruelling season with fatigue likely to set in. If the Flames can manage to stay healthy the entire season, they may be able to grab a top 3 spot in this division.
Unlike the other Canadian teams, the Winnipeg Jets stayed relatively quiet during free agency and in the offseason. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is coming off a Vezina-winning season and looking to take his team on a lengthy playoff run. I believe the Jets will be competitive, but I have them just falling short of the playoffs this season, as only the top four in each division will qualify.
There were rumours swirling this offseason about a possible Patrik Laine trade, which the Jets have since stated that Laine is off the trade block and that the team anticipates “big things” from their star Finnish forward this season. Winnipeg signed defenceman Derek Forbort and forward Nate Thompson in free agency, the two biggest impact players the team signed. Other than that the Jets stayed quiet, feeling confident with their core group including Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nik Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Laine.
It will be interesting to see how 2020 10th overall draft pick Cole Perfetti fits in with the Jets’ forward group, if he is able to stay with the big club this season. The fact that there will be no preseason games before the season begins will mean that this may not be the case, as it may be best for Perfetti’s development to stay in junior this year. However, Perfetti will definitely fit in nicely and be a great asset to the Jets’ already talented forward group.
Colby Spence / Winnipeg Sun
The Ottawa Senators are such a hard team to predict. If I’m being honest, I have no idea what to expect from the Senators this season. They have definitely gotten better in the offseason and picked up some key players that could play a huge role in Ottawa’s success. But this could also be the reason for their demise.
Right at the start of free agency, the Senators signed goaltender Matt Murray to a four-year contract, spelling the end of the Craig Anderson era in net. Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and is definitely a younger, more reliable option in net for the Sens. The biggest name that Ottawa lost was Bobby Ryan, but the team has done more than enough to fill the void in his absence. General Manager Pierre Dorion loaded up on forwards this fall, signing key guys like Evgenii Dadonov, Austin Watson, Alex Galchenyuk, Derek Stepan, Cedric Paquette and Braydon Coburn. The Senators also signed their 2020 3rd overall draft pick, Tim Stuetzle, to a three-year ELC.
Has Ottawa gotten better this offseason? The answer is absolutely. But I still don’t think this is the year for Sens fans to be excited just yet. This is a whole different team than last year, a lot of new faces, and especially with there being no preseason it may take a while for this team to learn to gel together. For that reason I believe Ottawa misses out on playoffs again this season, but they are close. If they can keep a good chunk of this team together, they could be scary in a couple of years.
The Montreal Canadiens are another team that I have no idea where they will go this year. On one hand, I look at the roster and think they might be pretty good, but on the other hand I look at the teams they have to play this season. There’s just something about this team that makes me not confident at all.
The Canadiens picked up some great players in Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, and most recently, Corey Perry, but did General Manager Marc Bergevin do enough for this team to be able to compete against the other Canadian teams? Basically every other team north of the border got better, I believe the Montreal Canadiens did not.
The absolute highest Montreal will finish this season is fifth place in the North, but I do not see that happening. Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg are all better teams that I can’t see the Canadiens finishing higher than. This Habs team will be fighting with the Senators for pride, looking to not be the worst Canadian team in the league. Like the Senators, the Habs are close. They’re just missing a few more pieces.
Jamie O’Meara / C2 Montréal
This is probably the hardest division to predict because every Canadian team got better in some way, shape, or form. No one knows exactly how this season will turn out. I may be completely wrong on these predictions and that’s totally fine, but I think one thing we can all agree on is that we can’t wait for the puck to drop again on January 13.
Do you agree with these predictions? Let us know in the comments!
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