With the shortened Training Camps nearly coming to an end, hockey is all but imminent. No bubble this time around, with the NHL instead attempting to minimize travel to try and beat COVID. The league and players came together to get a product on the ice which could not have come at a better time for hockey fans.
A quick recap of how we got here, the NHL and the Player’s Association agreed to a condensed 56 game schedule, set to begin on Wednesday. The schedule is set to run through May 8th, with the league allowing for some flexibility within the season. Each team has small gaps in their schedule in case games need to be postponed, for example, the Habs have a bye week in mid-February. From that point on it will be a sprint for the team as they will play four games per week seven times over the following 10 weeks.
This will become the norm in an unprecedented NHL season. Border restrictions have forced the league to reconfigure their divisions which should come as no surprise in Canada. It has taken up the majority of air time on sports talk airwaves, but we will get back to the US divisions in a minute. This realignment has created a small change to the playoffs as this season will not have any cross-over or Wild Card teams. The top four teams from each division will make the playoffs in a 1v4, 2v3 format.
This article will not get into the North division, however, thanks to the boys over at Healthy Skratch you can get a full breakdown of each team:
So I get making money off the division names, but if you were going to sell off the naming rights why not use division names that are actually appealing? Regardless, the East is without question the division of death. New Jersey and Buffalo are both going through some growing pains and adversity in their own respect, but should still be competitive despite getting hammered every night. In a normal season both could see some progress in their rebuilds, instead they are the appetizer in an all out Royal Rumble.
This division features a lot of the usual suspects, none of whom will accept any result but the playoffs. Without any cross-over spots up for grabs, the competition in this division will be a show all on it’s own. Despite the fact that the usual suspects will show up to the dinner table, I think that we will see a couple of perennial contenders be asked to move to the kiddies table. First and foremost, the Flyers will are the most complete team in the NHL this season. There have few to no weaknesses in this line up, and that includes Gritty.
The Islanders are another team I believe will cement themselves as a Contenders and make their mark in this division. Any sort of a success from any team will be a statement this season, but the Islanders have been on the cusp for a couple seasons now and it is their time. The addition of Sorokin give them easily one of the best tandems in net for a team that is already considered one of the best defensively in the league. Staying in New York, the Rangers will be the team to see the largest improvement from last season. Despite a quick exit from the Play-In Round, the Rangers are primed for a massive season. Igor Shesterkin will take the reigns in the crease from Lundqvist and could compete not only for the Calder, but dare I even say the Vezina as well.
The Bruins will still be in the mix, they along with the three aforementioned teams are the four teams I think will make the Playoff from this division. The Bruins were unable to address the losses of Krug and Chara, but this opens the door for some players to jump into more prominent roles. This, however, is to warm you up to the next crazy thought, the Pens and Caps could both be on the outside looking in. Two teams that have been at the top of the hockey world for the better part of the last decade could both be in some hot water.
This has less to do with these teams getting worse, and more to do with the rest of the league catching up and now, surpassing them. Neither team, nor their future Hall of Fame Captains will go down quietly which is what makes me so excited for this division.
While not quite the fight to the death that the East will be, the Central has a strong contingent of teams with a realistic chance to make the playoffs. Yes of course this is the ‘goal’ every season, but this division has two teams clearly in a rebuild. I can’t tell if Chicago is a mess behind closed doors or not, but the scene has been set for rebuild and this season is already looking like a toss away with Toews and Dach set to miss significant time. Detroit is one year removed from one of the worst seasons in history and did little to improve their roster. Rather they remained the course and have a couple youngsters that will be exciting to watch.
The fighting for position should make this division exciting to watch all the way to the finish. Carolina and Tampa Bay are the only team’s that could be considered front runners, the Hurricanes have been trending in the right direction for a couple years. If either of their goalies can get hot in this condensed season, they should easily sit atop this division. The Lightning are in both cap and injury trouble but just like multiplying negative numbers, these two situations have some how resulted in a positive outcome for the Bolts. Well atleast a desperate break even which is a win for them.
The meat of this division will come in the jockeying for position between Columbus, Dallas, Florida and Nashville. This is the respective order I think they will finish, but this is really splitting hairs. Columbus surprised everyone by overcoming the loss of key players lost to Free Agency. Under the guidance of Torts, I fully expect this team to build on what they did last season and the addition of Max Domi gives this roster the balance it was missing. This is not to say they won the trade, but Domi fills a position of need for this team, just like Anderson does the the Habs.
Dallas has proven beyond reasonable doubt that they will never go away. Last year’s Cup run should give this team confidence heading into the new season. They team failed to make any significant move this off season but was able to keep their core in tact. The team will be without Seguin to start the season which is good news for the Panthers whose expectations have to be Playoffs or bust at this point. Bobrovsky needs to find his game because he is getting paid far too much money for the production the team is getting out of him. As for Nashville, they should be competitive, but more a nuisance than a threat as they enter life after Rinne.
If only Colorado was slightly more to the East, this division would have an outright Midwest take over. The State of California, once considered the most feared road trip trifecta, is now the land of the rebuild. All three teams will likely struggle for most of this season as they continue to build for the future. Just like the bottom three teams, the top 3 will almost certainly be Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis. I personally have them in that order, but regardless, this leaves two teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the division.
Despite the hardships of their recent offseason (and associated moves), the Coyotes still have a strong roster on paper. This team will likely rely on Kuemper to take them to the promise land once again, and will require some significant production from some of their young talent. Their competition is going through a culture change of their own as the Wild look to get back on track. The team appears to be in the beginning phase of moving on from the Suter/Parise era under new General Manager Bill Guerin.
The Wild are an interesting team this season with a new core of desperately needed young talent. Kirill Kaprizov will make his highly anticipated debut , but he will not be the only rookie turning heads. This year’s First Round pick Marco Rossi should see some playing time as well, but it is Kaapo Kahkonen who could have the biggest impact on this roster. Finally earning a call up after a dominating season in Iowa, Kahkonen and new comer Cam Talbot will look to shore up the team’s biggest liability from last season. They will both be playing behind arguably one of the top Defensive units in the league.
Having already done this for the Canadian (North) Division, here are my pre-season projections for the remaining divisions:
What are you predictions for the season? Let us know what you think the 2021 NHL season will look like in the comments!
The boys are back at it again this week as our Flagship Podcast goes through a rebrand to start 2021! Welcome to Not Sauce For Work, a new name but the same idiots you love. Peeze, Terry and Eagle discuss the recent Mets trade and recap the week that was in the NFL and NBA. The boys also sit down with Chad Geter of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, finally wrapping things up by giving their suggestions for NHL division names.
Stay tuned for Weekly Sauce which will be dropping today! Terry and Alex sit down with friend of the show and Hockey Guru Marco D’Amico as we prepare for the Habs and the NHL season.
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