The NHL officially announced a change to each division as the season nears. The suspected Canadian division was confirmed and was renamed the North. The division realignment made some divisions very tough while others consist of multiple rebuilders. The changes made certainly help and hurt teams dependent on their own situation and how competitive their new rivals are. This season will feature a playoff in which the top four teams in each division make the preliminary round.
7. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa senators are an up and coming team in the North. They have a great future ahead; however; the Sens are not quite there yet and may contend as early as the 2021-2022 season. Their young cornerstones still need time to develop and in a couple of years should have the pieces to be one of the best teams in the NHL.
The Senators could substantially better following the conclusion of their season. They had three first-round draft picks, two of which were in the top five. Also, Ottowa signed Evgenii Dadonov, Alex Galchenyuk, and acquired goalie, Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Senators will be great soon, but this year they will not be a legitimate contender due to the quality of competition in the North.
6. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets have one of the best top-six forward groups in the league. This group includes a multitude of star wingers including Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nickolaj Ehlers. Also, they have one of the best two-way centers in the league, Mark Scheifele.
Not to mention, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is also on the team, Connor Hellebuyck. So why is this team not in the playoff picture? The answer is plain and simple: Defense. The Winnipeg Jets have one of the worst defensives cores in the league and if either the offense or goaltending is subpar, they have no shot at winning games.
When Mark Scheifle got injured in game one of the return to play this Summer, Calgary cruised past the Jets in the best-of-five. Hellebuyck also must have another insane campaign in net for this team to contend. Therefore a completely healthy and performing Jets lineup can be in the picture. However, they likely finish only ahead of Ottawa.
5. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens recently experienced a surprising glimpse of success in the return to play. They upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifiers and used one of the top competitors in the East, the Philadelphia Flyers to six games. In this span, viewers witnessed how the youngsters in Montreal can take control of the game and lead their team to victory. Jesper Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki were key skaters in the teams’ recent success in the playoffs.
However, with the departure of Max Domi, the Canadiens will be reliant on these two to continue to produce. While Kontaniemi and Suziki will likely continue to succeed in the NHL, they need more of a supporting cast to develop as they attempt to contend in this tough division. Also, the Canadiens have one of the better goalie tandems in the league so depending on their performance they may go far. The Canadiens need more time to develop to be serious contenders, especially in the quality North Division.
4. Calgary Flames
The Flames barely contend in this highly-contested division. The Flames were one of the very few teams to substantially improve this offseason. They signed Jacob Markstrom, who recently had the best season of his career so far. Also, they replaced UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent), T.J. Brodie, with defensemen Chris Tanev.
The Flames have a solid core. Led by captain Mark Giordano, the Flames have talent that can get them over the hump and into the playoffs. They have their fair share of star-power. Forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and the infamous Matthew Tkachuk lead the pack.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the top players in the league and both are easily top-five players. The two forwards center different lines and make their linemates better around them.
The Oilers are a mediocre team at best without the duo; however, these two superstars can single-handedly change the direction a game is heading. Therefore, there is a good reason for the Oilers to be legitimate cup contenders. In fact, EA Sports simulated last year’s playoffs and the Oilers were the victors thanks to these two cornerstones. In the North division, the Oilers will have to compete with teams with their own multitude of superstar talent and the duo is unlikely to carry Edmonton any further.
2. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks made a statement this past playoff. The Canucks faced the Minnesota Wild and were able to defeat them in the qualifiers. Following, the conclusion of the qualifiers, they matched up against the Stanley Cup Champions: The St. Louis Blues. Most projected that Vancouver would exit the bubble this series. Vancouver proved many spectators wrong as they upset the 2019 Champs.
In their next match-up, they faced the Vegas Golden Knights. While Vegas dominated the majority of the series, their soon-to-be full-time starter was phenomenal. Thatcher Demko single-handedly extended the series another two games when the Canducks were down by two. His performance in the playoffs proved that he can be a legitimate NHL star goalie and losing Jacob Markstrom was no longer as bad as it once seemed.
Also, the Canucks have two of the best rising stars in Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. Also, they acquired Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Nights for a couple of draft picks filling the hole by Tanev’s departure. The Canucks performance in the return to play strengthens their ability to contend in the North.
1. Division Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the most hated franchises in hockey will reign supreme in the North. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the most star players in this division and it’s not even close. Auston Matthews has established himself as one of the select-few elite goal-scorers in the NHL. He has a star on his wing, Mitch Marner, who creates beautiful plays allowing for the two to accumulate multiple points throughout the season. Also, John Tavares and William Nylander are talented forwards in this elite top-six. The Maple Leafs addressed their weakness this offseason by signing UFA, T.J Brodie. Brodie helps complete a solid top-defensive pairing with Morgan Rielly. Brodie can also be helpful on a stacked power-play. Frederik Andersen is also a solid option in net for the Leafs. Toronto can go deep this playoff and are the division favorites.
There you have it. The North will be a hotly-contested division. It will be entertaining to see how the Battle of Alberta plays out. Will the Leafs sit atop the division following fifty-six games of action? Do you agree with these projections? Leave your thoughts down below. Stay tuned in the coming days as Uncut Sports News releases the remainder of these division projections. Follow on Instagram to stay updated on all the American sports. Thank you for reading!
Great article…. very thorough