This is going to be an NHL season like no other.
On Jan. 13, the Edmonton Oilers will host the Vancouver Canucks, their first of 56 regular-season games exclusively against Canadian opponents.
Rather than long, boring grinds against the Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes, the Oilers will be going up against the Canucks, Flames, Jets, Leafs, Senators, and Habs all season as the NHL is operating with an All-Canadian Division. It’s going to be a wild ride.
For this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday (ACTUALLY ON A WEDNESDAY EDITION) question, let’s predict how the much-anticipated Canadian Divison is going to pan out (sorry, NHL, I’m rolling with this name rather than North Division).
I’ll take a look back at how all seven teams fared against Canadian opponents and who did what during the off-season…
37-25-9 (83 points)
7-7-3 vs Canadian opponents
1-2-1 vs CGY, 2-0-0 vs MTL, 0-1-0 vs OTT, 1-1-0 vs TOR, 2-2-0 vs VAN, 1-1-1 vs WPG
The Oilers posted the best record among Canadian teams last season, finishing second in the Pacific Division and ninth in the entire league with 83 points.
On paper, it appears as though the Oilers are better this year than last, as the team added quality depth in Tyson Barrie, Kyle Turris, Dominik Kahun, and Jesse Puljujarvi to the roster. There are some legitimate concerns, like losing Oscar Klefbom to injury and bringing back Mike Smith for another season in net, but this looks like a team that should be as strong as it was last season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
36-25-9 (81 points)
7-2-4 vs Canadian opponents
0-0-1 vs CGY, 1-1-0 vs EDM, 0-1-2 vs MTL, 3-0-0 vs OTT, 2-0-0 vs VAN, 1-0-1 vs WPG
The Leafs finished second among Canadian teams last season, two points behind the Oilers with one game in hand. They did very well against Canadian opponents, with their only two regulation losses coming against the Oilers and Flames.
Toronto is also a better team this year than they were last year. They improved their blueline by signing the underrated T.J. Brodie in free agency and they added some quality veteran depth in Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, and Zach Bogosian. I would say the Leafs are the team to beat in this division.
37-28-6 (80 points)
9-3-0 vs Canadian opponents
1-0-0 vs CGY, 2-1-0 vs EDM, 1-1-0 vs MTL, 2-0-0 vs OTT, 1-1-0 vs TOR, 2-0-0 vs VAN
The Jets were engaged in a tough playoff battle in the Central Division when the season got paused back in March. They ended up making it in when the field was expanded and lost their qualifying-round series against the Flames.
The key to the Jets being successful again is whether or not Connor Hellbuyck can put together another Vezina Trophy-calibre season. The team got better in the off-season, adding veteran centre Paul Stastny and re-signing trade deadline addition Dylan DeMelo, but Hellbuyck will need to compensate for a weak blueline again.
36-27-7 (79 points)
8-4-2 vs Canadian opponents
3-1-0 vs EDM, 0-1-1 vs MTL, 1-1-0 vs OTT, 2-0-0 vs TOR, 2-1-0 vs VAN, 0-0-1 vs WPG
The Flames had an up and down season in 2019-20. They got off to a slow start but started to play much better once Geoff Ward replaced Bill Peters behind the bench. Calgary posted a 12-12-4 record with Peters and a 24-15-3 record with Ward and won their play-in series against the Jets.
It’s difficult to say if the Flames are better this year than last. They made a big upgrade in net, signing Jacob Markstrom to a six-year deal, but there’s injury risk there. The Flames also saw some major losses on their blueline, as T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic moved on while Chris Tanev was brought in. I would say the Flames look worse on paper this season, though a great showing Markstrom could make that moot.
36-27-6 (78 points)
5-10-0 vs Canadian opponents
1-2-0 vs CGY, 2-2-0 vs EDM, 1-1-0 vs MTL, 1-1-0 vs OTT, 0-2-0 vs TOR, 0-2-0 vs WPG
The Canucks enjoyed what appeared to be a breakout season last year, putting up 78 points and winning their play-in series against the Minnesota Wild. That said, the Canucks were awful against Canadian teams, posting a 5-10-0 record.
Vancouver also undoubtedly got worse this off-season. Due to salary cap constraints, they lost Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Toffoli to free agency, and, to make matters worse, all of those players signed with other Canadian teams. If the Canucks are going to be as good as they were in 2019-20, they’ll need a huge season from goalie tandem Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko along with internal progression from young players like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.
31-31-9 (71 points)
10-3-2 vs Canadian opponents
2-0-0 vs CGY, 0-2-0 vs EDM, 3-0-1 vs OTT, 3-0-0 vs TOR, 1-0-1 vs VAN, 1-1-0 vs WPG
The Habs are a conundrum. They were a mediocre team last season, going 31-31-9, but they snuck into the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference due to the field being expanded. They would also go on to knock off the heavily-favoured Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round.
That play-in round performance is one thing, but Montreal’s impressive 10-3-2 record against Canadian teams is another. It seems as though the Habs stack up very well head-to-head in this division.
The Habs added a quality back-up goalie in Jake Allen, a good top-six scorer in Tyler Toffoli, and should see some internal progression from young players like Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Max Domi for Josh Anderson swap was puzzling, but Montreal’s roster is stronger this year than last.
25-34-12 (62 points)
4-7-1 vs Canadian opponents
1-1-0 vs CGY, 1-0-0 vs EDM, 1-1-0 vs MTL, 0-2-1 vs TOR, 1-1-0 vs VAN, 0-2-0 vs WPG
Finally, we have the rebuilding Ottawa Senators, who finished with the second-worst record in the league last season. The Sens are slowly but surely improving, but they’re still a ways away from being competitive.
They had a poor 4-7-1 record against Canadian teams last season but are slightly better this season than they were last thanks to additions like Matt Murray and Evgenii Dadonov. The Sens won’t be as bad as last year, but they’ll clearly be the punching bag of this division.
What does it all mean?
All told, this will be a very, very fun division to follow. Canadian teams facing each other exclusively for four months will be a wild ride and rivalries will get intense. There are six quality teams in this division vying for four playoff spots and, really, anything can happen.
Here’s how I think it’ll shake out…
Let us know in the comments what you think the standings in the All-Canadian Division will look like when it’s all said and done.
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