We are two weeks away from the start of the NHL season so what better way to get ready with some division previews. We have four new divisions for this upcoming season and we are starting with the all Canadian division in what is now being called the North division.
Right off the bat the NHL went the boring route per usual with the names of the divisions. They really could have done something cool with the names like using some of the Hockey GOATS as division names. The Gretzky division sounds so much cooler than the North division but I digress….So lets go team by team here and get into a look at the NHL’s North division.
Calgary Flames(36-27-7, 79PTS) 4th in Pacific, Lost in first round to Stars
The Calgary Flames come into this year with something to prove after a disappointing playoffs last year. Their core is back for another year and they now have some more experience to lean on and they are going to need their young guys to take their play to another level. I love the way this Calgary team plays, they are a fast paced hard hitting team with a lot of talent. Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau is easily one of my favorite players in the league and Sean Monahan doesn’t get the respect he deserves. On the backend Mark Giordano is back for another year and with him Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin the Flames have a solid three on defense. While I don’t think they have the best depth on the backend the best addition they made was between the pipes. The Flames brought in Jacob Markstrom this offseason and he looks to be the number one goalie coming in with David Rittich backing him up. Goaltending was probably the biggest flaw on this team last year not that it was horrible but they are much better setup this year with Markstrom in net. I fully expect them to be a competitive team and with the shortened season it could really benefit the Flames. One of the best parts about this all Canadian division is that we get to see the battle of Alberta at least 8 times. Those games between the Flames and Oilers are going to be electric and there is going to be a lot of bad blood so you’re gonna want to make sure you’re tuning in for them. It’s going to be a tough division but I think the Flames will end up surprising a lot of people and while I think it’s a long shot they win the division but they are a sleeper team to keep an eye on.
Key Additions: (G) Jacob Markstrom, (D) Chris Tanev
Key Departures: (D) T.J. Brodie, (D) Erik Gustafsson, (G) Cam Talbot
Edmonton Oilers(37-25-9, 83PTS) 2nd in Pacific, Lost to Blackhawks in Qualifying Round
While a lot of people would say losing to the Blackhawks in the qualifying round was extremely disappointing for Edmonton I think the circumstances had an impact on that series more than anything. The Blackhawks have a lot of veterans on their team who have won a lot in their time and I think the experience was a major factor. This year barring any season stoppages or major injuries, I think this Oilers team is going to be a problem. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world and only seems to be getting better every year which is scary. Leon Draisaitl has solidified himself as a top five player in the league and they have added some much needed depth. Already having Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, and Jesse Puljiujarvi was decent but now you add in a guy like Kyle Turris and they are much deeper than last year. They also have a lot of big bodies so they won’t just be playing a fast paced game as they should be able to throw their weight around. The biggest addition for them came when they signed defenseman Tyson Barrie. That addition has become even bigger now with the news of Oskar Klefbom being out for the year. Adding Barrie to go along with Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard this Edmonton defense should be legit. Goaltending is what it is at this point for the Oilers. Mikko Koskinen showed flashes of excellence but proved to be somewhat inconsistent at times. Veteran Mike Smith will give you some solid games but I don’t see him being the guy to win you a Stanley Cup. They did bring in Anton Forsberg so will see how much playing time he will get. The good thing is that the Oilers should have no issue putting the puck in the back of the net so it may not even matter how many goals they let in.
Key Additions: (D) Tyson Barrie, (F) Kyle Turris
Key Departures: (F) Andreas Athanasiou
Montreal Canadiens(31-31-9, 71PTS) 5th in Atlantic, Lost to Flyers in first round
One of the teams that benefited most from last season playoff format as the Habs knocked out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round and took the Philadelphia Flyers to the limit falling short in game 6 of round one. As a Flyers fan having witnessed first hand what this team can do, their future is looking very bright. Led by Brandon Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi on offense and now adding in guys like Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson the Canadiens offense is looking pretty dangerous. Keep in mind they still have young guys like Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling who have a lot of potential as well. Shea Weber is the veteran presence on defense for the Habs to go along with Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot. They added Joel Edmundson to add some more depth and he should be a solid addition. In net Carey Price is still Carey Price and he proved in the playoffs he is still more than capable of stealing games when he needs to. One of their more interesting moves was they went out and traded for Jake Allen which was a little strange but he will be a solid backup for Price and with the shortened season this move could really help them in getting Price some rest so he stays fresh. The Canadiens will be a decent team this year but I still don’t see them being a legit playoff contender especially since it’s only the top four teams in each division making the playoffs. I think they will be close and could easily sneak in but I just can’t see them finishing any higher than 5th.
Key Additions: (F) Josh Anderson, (F) Tyler Toffoli,
Key Departures: None
Ottawa Senators(25-34-12, 62PTS) 7th in Atlantic, Missed playoffs
It’s safe to say this team was an absolute dumpster fire on and off the ice the last few seasons. The good news is things look to possibly be turning around in Ottawa. Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Connor Brown seem to be a solid trio of forwards that Ottawa can build around. Now this offseason they were able to bring in Alex Galchenyuk, Evgenii Dadonov, and Austin Watson. Those guys coming in to possibly go along with their first round pick in Tim Stutzle if he can make the team and the future is looking bright. Thomas Chabot, and Nikita Zaitsev are the two workhorses on defense for the Sens and they don’t have too much else going for them on the backend right now. The biggest addition for the Senators came between the pipes as they made the trade for two time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray. While the defense in front of him may not be great, the change of scenery could benefit Murray who is still only 26 years old and has plenty of experience and will be relied on heavily to keep the Senators in games. They don’t strike me as a legitimate threat but they will be a stingy team to play against but give them a few years and of they continue to draft they way they have been they could become dangerous.
Key Additions: (G) Matt Murray, (F) Josh Anderson, (F) Evgenii Dadonov
Key Departures: (F) Anthony Duclair
Toronto Maple Leafs(36-25-9, 81PTS) 3rd in Atlantic, Lost to Blue Jackets in Qualifying Round
I have a hot take that I don’t know if people are ready for or not…The Maple Leafs will benefit the most from these new division this year….Why you ask? Well for two reasons; one, they can make the playoffs and not have to play the Bruins in the first round and two they won’t have to worry about playing the Lightning. I’m by no means saying this North division is going to be easy but for the Leafs who have historically struggled against both of those teams it’s a win for them in my eyes. Let’s not forget they still have Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. Oh by the way they added some nice pieces during the offseason as well guys like Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, and Jimmy Vesey. They also improved on their defense by adding T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian to go along with their top two of Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly. Also you can’t forget about the youngster Rasmus Sandin who looks like he could be a stud. Will there goaltending be able to hold up is the big question, will Frederik Anderson be the answer or will the new guys in Jack Campbell (only played 6 games for the leafs last year) and Aaron Dell take over the reigns. I think Anderson can be the guy but he is really gonna have to prove himself this year because Jack Campbell could easily steal his job. Toronto should be a playoff team but if things don’t go their way we could end up seeing some big changes in the six.
Key Additions: (D) T.J. Brodie, (F) Wayne Simmonds, (F) Joe Thornton
Key Departures: (F) Kasperi Kapanen, (F) Andreas Johnsson
Vancouver Canucks(36-27-6, 78PTS) 3rd in Pacific, Lost to Golden Knights in 2nd Round
Maybe one of the biggest surprises from last season the Vancouver Canucks come into this season on the heels of a very impressive playoff performance. Their young guns up front in Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser made a bigger name for themselves during the bubble and they look to only improve from there. Based off of their success from last season they didn’t need to make any major additions during the offseason and the only real big move they made was between the pipes by bringing in Braden Holtby. It was a smart move on their part to bring him in but after his playoffs last year Thatcher Demko might have something to say about who ends up getting the bulk of the starts. On defense Quinn Hughes has proven he is the future of the Canucks defense and he will only get better the more he plays. Him along with Jordie Benn and Alexander Edler give the Canucks three solid options on defense and on top of that they brought in Nate Schmidt who really helps sure up things on defense. This just seems like a team that is going to build off of their playoff success and they are setup very well for the future.
Key Additions: (G) Braden Holtby (D) Nate Schmidt
Key Departures: None
Winnipeg Jets(37-28-6, 80PTS) 5th in Central, Lost to Flames in Qualifying Round
I don’t know what to think about this team, I really don’t. They have so much talent in their group of forwards and they have one of the best goaltenders in the league. Their defense absolutely stinks though, I mean yeah John Morrissey is good and easily their best one but thats really it. They brought in Dylan DeMelo who is decent but I’m not ready to say he is gonna solve their problems. Between Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine I mean this offense should be nearly unstoppable. But for some reason most of the talk this offseason has been whether or not the Jets are going to move on from Laine who by the way is only 22 years old and is a pure goal scorer. Yes, I know he is going to want a big contract but I’m sorry you don’t just trade a guy of that nature. I already touched on the goaltending a little bit as Connor Hellebuyck has really made a name for himself the last two seasons. He became the first ever Winnipeg Jets goaltender to win the Vezina this past year. The dude is a stud and the fact he is able to put up those kind of numbers with the defense he has in front of him is extremely impressive. Like I said, I really don’t know what to expect from this team they should be good but I am not sure they end up getting into one of those top four spots to make the playoffs.
Key Additions: (D) Dylan DeMelo, (F) Paul Stastny
Key Departures: None
Final Standings Predictions:
- Edmonton Oilers
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Vancouver Canucks
- Calgary Flames
- Winnipeg Jets
- Montreal Canadiens
- Ottawa Senators
We are going to have some great matchups this year within this division especially since we will get to see Calgary and Edmonton go at it nearly ten times. Also, sign me up for Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid going head to head a bunch of times. We will also see two of the biggest goons(I mean that in the nicest way possible because I love both guys) in the Tkachuk brothers going head to head. If those two don’t drop the gloves with each other at some point this year I will be disappointed.
Stay tuned for the rest of my NHL division previews and make sure to toss me a follow on Twitter and follow Branded Sports for some of the best NHL coverage throughout the upcoming season.
Featured Image-Edmonton Sun