With the NHL seemingly trending in the right direction, the dream of an all-Canadian NHL division is looking more and more like a reality. A vague early January start is the current NHL target date despite the recent rise in numbers. The US/Canadian border remains closed and looks like that isn’t changing any time soon, so what would a Canadian Division look like, and where would the Habs finish in this division?
Under this adopted Canadian division, I will assume that that division will only play within itself. More importantly, I will also assume that the NHL will adopt a MLB-type schedule completely comprised of mini-series. 2 games in 3 nights or 3 games in 4/5 nights as well as more games per week as the NHL attempts to get their season finished before the 2020 (2021?) Summer Olympics. For this reason I also believe we will see a shortened season, somewhere in the 68 game range. This is only relevant because I will attempt to predict records just for fun.
Working in reverse order here is how I see the all-Canadian Division shaking out.
7. Ottawa Senators (27-33-8 , 62 pts)
The Senators finishing in last is the only prediction I feel comfortable saying with some sort of certainty. Their roster underwent a massive overhaul this off-season to make way for the new generation of players. The 2021 version of this team will be much more competitive and by default actually enjoyable to watch. I like what Pierre Dorion has done by going all in on the rebuild, now it all comes down to what DJ Smith can do with the roster. One small caveat, this team has more Cap Space ($12.5M via Capfriendly.com) than the other seven teams combined. Keep an eye on these guys come trade deadline considering the financial strain of COVID on many teams.
The Sens should remain competitive in every game, but they will inevitably come up short more often then not. The season will be a moral victory for the team and their front office, matching last season’s point total in significantly fewer games. However, moral victories don’t count for sh*t.
6. Winnipeg Jets (33-28-7 , 73 pts)
The next six teams were tough to slot out, however, in what should be a very competitive division, the Jets will be the team that falls short. As you can see by the point totals, six through two are separated by just nine points. The problem with the Jets is that they remain top heavy up front and will be forced to rely too much on reigining Vezina winner, Connor Hellebuyck.
The trade for Stastny was a big addition to a roster that desperately missed their second line center, Bryan Little last season. Getting Patrick Laine going will be critical for a team that looks to get back in the playoffs. The team did not lose any significant players this year, Kulikov on the Blue Line hurts their depth, however it opens up a spot for a guy I really like, Ville Heinola. Off to a great start in the Liiga (Finland), Heinola will provide so much needed relief to a back end that has gone through it’s fair share of turnover in the last couple of years.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (32-25-11 , 75 pts)
It gives me great pleasure to put the Leafs at 5. One of the big positives from the all-Canadian division is the revival of many rivalries. Not that the Habs and Leafs rivalry need much of a push, but the timing could not be better for this division. Now that both teams have respectable rosters at the same time for the first time in over a decade, these mini-series should make for some great entertainment. A renewed Battle of Ontario should benefit more than any other rivalry, but getting back to hockey, the Leafs failed to really address any of the real issues with their team.
No one denies that the Leafs can score, they will likely lead this division in Goals For, but they have trouble keeping pucks out of their net. I will say that the lack of any significant signings is a bit of a moot point for a team like the Leafs. They are stocked with young talent that is simply a year older with an additional year of develop and experience.
I like the additions of Thornton and Simmonds, both of whom should play a bigger role than people expect in a mini-series format for the season. TJ Brodie and a healthy Jake Muzzin will be the biggest X-factors for this team if they hope to make the playoffs, let alone get through to the Second Round.
4. Vancouver Canucks (35-27-6 , 76 pts)
The Canucks and Leafs are very interchangeable here, but the Canucks may be in for a bit of a rude awakening. Their roster is very good, they are young and seem ready to take the next step but the loss of Markstrom should not and cannot be overstated. It is part of the reason why I have the Flames ranked ahead of the Canucks despite both team’s respective playoff runs. The Canucks tandem of Demko and Holtby has a wide range of outcomes in my opinion, which tandem shows up will be detrimental to this team’s success.
That being said, you still have to get passed five players on the ice to make it to the goalie, and in that regard the Canucks may be the best in Canada. Travis Green has brought this team a long way, properly developing his wealth of young talent and I think that coaching will be more important this year than ever. A tactical coach and a strong video scouting department will be on the forefront this season since teams will only have 6 opponents to plan for. Not to mention winning two of three will be a massive strategical approach to most of the season.
3. Calgary Flames (36-25-7 , 79 pts)
What side of recency bias are you on? In the last two seasons the Flames outcomes have ranged from finishing First in the Western Conference with 107 points to a 79 points season last year. However the 2021 roster will feature something new, a bonafide starting goaltender! You can argue the term all you want, but a $6M AAV for Markstrom will be a steal for at least the next three years. Any sort of playoff success in that time makes this contract worth the investment, and I believe the contract will pay dividends immediately.
With some familiarity with Greg Ward, this team should get off to a much better start than last season. If Johnny Hockey can get back to, or within range of is 100 point season to jump start this offense, this team has a chance to rediscover some magic from their 107 point season.
2. Montreal Canadiens (38-24-6 , 82 pts)
No team did more in the offseason to improve their overall roster than the Canadiens. The Markstrom signing was the most important individual signing, but full body of work, no other General Manager comes close to Bergevin. With that being said, a lot of why I have the Habs this high has to do with Carey Price. Call it a Spicy Take if you like, but Carey Price will be a finalist for the Hart Trophy along side McDavid and MacKinnon.
This is the best roster Price has ever had, he has a capable back up, and he has more than just Weber to protect him now. I don’t agree with people that say investing in the goalie position is stupid, but to each their own. To these people I will say, I expect you will have to eat your words this season. You don’t need to be a savant in Hockey 101 to know what you saw from Carey Price in the Return to Play was something special.
No one has the potential to influence a game more, night in and night out, than Carey Price. He reminded everyone of that fact last season and I believe that stretch in August was to remind everyone he still has it. He has been in need of reinforcements for years, he is starting to get them, it’s time for Price to prove why he is well worth his contract.
1. Edmonton Oilers (37-20-11 , 85 pts)
Imagine being Connor McDavid and for the first time in your life, you were not the best player on your team? That was the case for the possibly unanimous best player in the world. McDavid is a team guy and was for sure thrilled to see Draisaitl have a MVP season. However, there is no way that a small part of him wasn’t pissed because he has always been the best everywhere he has gone.
The Oilers had a relatively quiet off-season, bringing in Tyson Barrie to fill the role the team had hoped that Mike Green would fill. I was surprised that the team did nothing about their goaltending situation, especially with a prospect like Puljujarvi as trade bait. That being said, getting Puljujarvi back on the roster would be a very welcomed addition. A second season under Tippett should help this team continue to grow towards a Stanley Cup contender, as they try to pull a Tampa Bay Lightning and learn from the mistakes of their early exit last season.
Where do you see the Habs and the other Canadian team’s finishing? Let us know in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce content! We continue with the hockey trend by bringing on Scott Matla, Senior Writer at Habs Eye on the Prize and Co-Host of the Locked on Habs podcast! Check out our latest episode of the Podcast as Peeze, Terry and Eagle talk Maradona, NFL and NBA!
This week on Weekly Sauce! Alex the Intern, Terry sit down with Jack Gotsell from Tarps Off Hockey to talk ‘Bama Football, Habs/Bruins rivalry and drunk athletes. Tune in to find out which Habs player Terry bumped into during a night out on the town!
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