NHL North Division Predictions
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2021
Hockey is just around the corner on January 13, 2021, the puck will drop for a season that we have never seen before and hockey fans are excited about the North Division.
We will be getting four divisions. the West Division, the East Division, the Central Division and the North Division.
Today, I will be focusing on the North Division which is being called by fans the Canadian Division. In this article, I will be giving my breakdown of all seven teams and predictions on what could happen.
7. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators made baby steps this season, in their rebuild. Unfortunately for them, they missed the playoffs again for the third straight season.
The Ottawa Senators made big moves this off-season acquiring two-time Stanley Cup Champion Matt Murry from the Pittsburgh Penguins and then signing him to a four-year contract worth $25 million. Murry is coming off a poor season with Pittsburgh where he started 38 games and had a 2.87 GAA with a record of 20-11-5. Murry is looking to sneak the young Senators into a playoff spot.
Ottawa made more noise in the off-season when they signed forward Evgenii Dadonov to a three-year deal with $15 million. Dadonov, last season with the panthers played in 69 games where he notched 25 goals and 22 assists. Dadonov will be one of the key contributors with this Senators offence alongside Brady Tkachuk. As well as on the back end with Thomas Chabot who will play a big factor early on and throughout this season.
The youth movement continues in Ottawa as they drafted forward Tim Stutzle with the third overall pick and defensemen Jake Sanderson fifth overall, the Sens hope these two young players can have an impact on the team sooner rather than later.
With the subtraction of Anthony Duclair, the Senators added more depth on the wing when they signed Alex Galchenyuk to a one-year $1.5 million contract. Galchenyuk played with the Minnesota Wild last season playing in 59 games while picking up 8 goals and 16 assists. The former third overall pick from 2012 finds himself on a new team once again. The 26-year-old continues to show a glimpse of his potential on the ice and could be in a good position to regenerate his career with the Senators and their rebuild.
Ottawa, added veteran pieces to their young lineup as they acquired center Derek Stepan from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2021 draft. Stepan who is going into the final contract has fallen off a little bit in recent years put up 35 points in the 18-19 season and 28 points in the 19-20 campaign.
However, Stepan may step in and be the No. 1 center for the Senators, but he will be one of the many options they can choose from.
The other pieces Ottawa added were defensemen Braydon Coburn, center Cedric Paquette and a second-round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Marian Gaborik and goaltender Anders Nilsson.
I think Ottawa still needs a couple of seasons left until they will be a competitive team again, but unfortunately, they are in a strong division and I don’t see them making the playoffs this season.
Predictions for the season
Miss the playoffs
6. Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks made noise last season in the playoffs as they eliminated the Minnesota Wild in the Play-In round and then they moved onto the first round of the playoffs to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup Champions the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately, for the Canucks they ran into the powerhouse Vegas Golden Knights, the Canucks took them to the brink, but ultimately lost 3-0 in game seven.
Heading into free agency the Vancouver Canucks lost key pieces to their lineup as defensemen Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher forwards Josh Leivo, Tyler Toffoli and goaltender Jacob Markstrom signed with new teams this offseason. This left big holes to fill in their lineup.
The Canucks filled the goaltending hole as they signed Braden Holtby to a two-year contract at $8.6 million. Holtby will be making $4.3 million annually. The 31-year-old Holtby spent nine seasons with the Washington Capitals, winning a Stanley Cup in 2018. Last season Holtby started in 48 games going 25-14-6 with a GAA of 3.11.
The Canucks then traded for defensemen Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a third-round pick. Schmidt plays mostly on the right side and it what the Canucks need after losing a key piece in Chris Tanev. Schmidt has been a top-four defenseman over the last few years, and he has racked up over 30 points, Schmidt will bring a nice veteran presence to this defence core.
Vancouver would add more to their defence as they sign Travis Hamonic to a professional tryout. The Canucks can sign Hamonic after they place Michael Ferland on the LTIR on the first day of the season. The 30-year-old Hamonic spent the last three years in Calgary after he was traded there from the New York Islanders. Just like Nate Schmidt, Hamonic will be a nice presence to have on defence and he will add more depth to the right side. I like this move here by Vancouver.
With these key additions being the key pieces for the Canucks heading into this season they will need their big boys in Petterson, Miller, Boeser, Hughes and Horvat to step up big if they want to make a big push for the playoffs in this tough division. As well as if Holtby and Thatcher Demko can steal them games which is a strong possibility, but only time will tell.
I can see the Canucks staying in the playoff race for most of the season, but it will be tough for them and as of right now I don’t see them making the playoffs, but they will be definitely in the fight for that final spot.
Predictions for this season
Miss the playoffs
5. Winnipeg Jets
Before the NHL season paused last year in March, the Winnipeg Jets were on a hot streak. Connor Hellebuyck was standing on his head keeping the Jets in the playoff race at the time. Unfortunately for Winnipeg that momentum could not carry through as the Calgary Flames eliminated them in four games. The Jets took a big blow as they’re NO. 1 center Mark Scheifele sustained a leg injury in game 1 that would keep him out of the playoffs. The injuries didn’t stop there as Patrik Laine suffered a sprained hand that kept him out of the playoffs as well. For Winnipeg, if their injuries did not happen things could have ended better for them and they could have clinched a playoff stop.
Heading into the offseason the Jets made some minimal moves as they reacquired center Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for defensemen Carl Dahlstrom and a 4th-round pick in the 2022 draft. Stastny played for the Jets in 2018 when he was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues. Stastny helped the Jets reach the Western Conference finals that year before being eliminated by the Golden Knights in that series.
The Jets also resigned defensemen Dylan DeMelo to a four-year, $12 million contract. The 27-year-old was acquired by the Jets from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline. DeMelo was set to hit the free-agent market back in October. DeMelo resigning helps the Jets with their thin blue-line that they have.
Another big story from the Jets offseason was that they were trying to trade forward Patrik Laine. The Jets were reportedly serious about moving their star winger. But since then, the rumours have cooled off. By reacquiring Paul Stastny, they hope that he and Laine will rekindle they’re magic that they had in 2018. The Jets hope that this will make Laine into a more dominant player this season and take a big step in his young career.
Just like the Canucks, the Jets will need their important players to step up this season if they want to make the playoffs and surprise teams with their pottant offence and strong goaltending. But for Winnipeg, their defence is the question mark here as I think they will have trouble against the teams with a stronger offence. This will need to be answered if they want to make the playoffs.
Predictions for this season
Miss the playoffs
4. Montreal Canadiens
Due to the NHL expanding the playoffs to 24 teams last season the Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs and took on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in rounds where they played the role of spoiler and eliminated the Penguins in five games. Reality would then strike as in round one of the playoffs the Habs took on a strong team in the Philadelphia Flyers. Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi took major steps in their development during the playoffs and Carey Price stood on his head in this series and he played like the Carey Price of old, but that wouldn’t be enough. As the Flyers would go onto eliminating the Canadiens in six games, ending their season.
The Canadiens look to take another big step this season as they want to prove to people that last season wasn’t a fluke. Entering the offseason Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin, made an early splash as he traded Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson. Domi and Anderson were both restricted free agents. Two days later the Canadiens announced that they had signed Josh Anderson to a seven-year $38.5 million contract Anderson only played in 26 games during the 19-20 season as he only put up four points, one goal and three assists due to injury. Anderson is looking to have a bounce-back year and hopes to quiet his critics.
The Habs also added a nice piece to their defence as they acquired Joel Edmundson, and a couple of days later they would sign him to a four-year $14 million contract. The Canadiens also acquired Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues. Montreal hopes that Allen can take some of the workloads off of Carey Price as this season back-to-back games will be important.
Montreal didn’t stop there as they made another splash by signing forward Tyler Toffoli to a four-year $17 million contract. Toffoli will be a big piece to this Canadiens lineup as he will most likely be on the Canadiens top line. Toffoli has spent eight years in the NHL as he has notched 139 goals and 151 assists in 515 games. The Canadiens then added a nice veteran presence as they signed Corey Perry to a one-year deal at 750K. Perry helped lead the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The 35-year-old veteran picked up five goals and 16 assists in 57 games last season as well as nine points in 27 playoff games.
With all the additions Montreal made this offseason they will be a tough team to play against as they fixed most of their needs. It will be interesting to see the tandem of Carey Price and Jake Allen to see how far they can bring the team to where they want to be. I think the pieces they added in their top six will be great and it should be good enough to get them in the playoffs.
Predictions for this season
Make the playoffs
3. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers had a bounce-back year last season as when the NHL went on pause, they were in second in the Pacific Division with a record of 37-25-9. When the NHL returned to play, the Oilers took on the Chicago Blackhawks in the play-in round. In this series, the Oilers should have had the advantage against a weaker Chicago Blackhawks team, but in the end, the Blackhawks veteran experience helped them get by this young Oilers team as they won the series 3-1.
The Oilers had questions that needed to be answered especially in goaltending. As Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, both struggled in the play-in round against Chicago. Smith and Koskinen will both be back for the Oilers this season as General Manager Ken Holland tried to fix that position in free agency but was unable to do so. The Oilers look to have the Smith and Koskinen from the season before for the pause because that will be their ticket back to the post season.
Edmonton was hit with some big news as their top defensemen Oscar Klefbom will miss the entire 2021 campaign as Klefbom had surgery on his shoulder that has been bothering him for some time. Klefbom has had surgery on this shoulder multiple times. Klefbom has spent the last seven seasons with Edmonton, last season he picked up 34 points in 62 games while logging 25 minutes per night. The Oilers will miss the presence of him on their back end.
Heading into free agency with the news that Klefbom was set to have shoulder surgery. Oilers General Manager Ken Holland signed defensemen Tyson Barrie to a one-year deal worth $3.75 million. Barrie spent the 19-20 with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he struggled early under then-coach Mike Babcock but then started to produce when Sheldon Keefe came aboard. Barrie put up 39 points in 70 games with the Leafs, Barrie is hoping to have a big bounce-back year. With Klefbom being out it looks like Barrie will be the quarterback on the powerplay with the Oilers high flying offence.
The Oilers made another signing in the offseason as they sign center Kyle Turris to a two-year deal worth $3.3 million. Turris was bought out by the Nashville Predators as he had four years left on his contract with them. Turris has struggled with the offence the last few seasons only putting up 54 points in 117 games with Nashville over the last two years. The 31-year-old Turris looks to prove people wrong and shows that he can be the player he once was. Turris will likely be the third line center for Edmonton as he will be slotted behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
I think the Oilers will pick up where they left off before the pause last season and they will be a good team to play against. The Oilers finally have three centers they can run down the middle with McDavid, Draisaitl and Turris and that will give them enough room to spread out up and down the lineup. I believe Tyson Barrie will have a good year with the Oilers and prove that last season was a write-off and I think he will put up good numbers. The real question will be is if the goaltending will be able to hold up which I think it will, but time will tell when the playoffs roll around to see if Smith or Koskinen can take the ball and run with it. I expect everyone in this lineup to pull their weight and help out McDavid and Draisaitl because if they can do that the Oilers will be a force to reckon with in this division.
Prediction for this season
Make the playoffs
2. Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames were an exciting team last season. The Flames eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in the play in rounds taking them out in four. Calgary would then suffer heartbreak in the playoffs as they would be eliminated in game 6 losing 7-3 to the runner-up Dallas Stars. The Flames were up 3-0 after the first period and the Stars stormed back, by scoring seven unanswered goals.
If Calgary wants to take the next step next season, they will need their important players to step up in big situations. Heading into the offseason the Flames made a splash by signing goaltender and defensemen Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev from the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flames signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year $36 million contract, Markstrom was coming off a career year with the Canucks where he finished fourth in Vezina votes and had a .918 save percentage, with a 2.80 GAA. Markstrom knew his time with Vancouver was up and he took a payday to their rival. Markstrom will be splitting time in the net with David Rittich, Rittch has one more year on his contract and this will be a great time to show his worth if he and Markstrom can be lights out for Calgary.
With the departure of TJ Brodie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flames looked to replace a player like him on the backend and they did as they signed Chris Tanev from the Vancouver Canucks as well to a four-year deal worth $4.5 million. With the key signings of both of these players, I think it puts Calgary in a good spot. As not only do their forward group look good, but so does the defence and goaltending. I see Calgary being a hard team to play against and now that they have a 1A and 1B option in the net, I think that they will take the next step to where they want to be if all of the cards fall into place for them.
Prediction for this season
Makes the playoffs
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs is coming off of another postseason disappointment as they fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the play-in series. The Leafs had an up and down season in 19-20.
Last season, Toronto lacked grit, sandpaper and defence. Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas filled those needs, on defence. Dubas signed TJ Brodie to a four-year $5 million contract. Brodie is what the Leafs needed as he plays on the right side and will be paired with Morgan Reilly. Brodie will elevate Reilly’s game. Now that he has a reliable partner he can play with. The 30-year-old Brodie spent eight years in Calgary, he played in 64 games last season tallied four goals and 15 assists, before adding four points in the playoffs with one goal and four assists.
The Leafs then added some grit, as Wayne Simmonds signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. The Scarborough native played in 68 games last year as he put up 25 points. Simmonds brings much-needed toughness to this team and he will be a key contributor in the season. The Leafs added more toughness as they sign defensemen Zach Bogosian to a one-year $1 million contract. Bogosian is coming off a Stanley Cup victory with the Tampa Bay Lightning and he will be a nice presence to have on the back end as he is a solid shutdown defenseman.
The signing that got a lot of attention around the hockey world was Joe Thornton signing with Toronto at one-year $700,000. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer put up 31 points last season in 70 games. Thornton was just a year removed from putting up 51 points in the 18-19 campaign. Thornton brings so much veteran presence to this team and will not be afraid to speak up when he needs to. Thornton commands respect and he will get that from his teammates as they have lots of respect for him. Thornton will begin the season on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Thornton says playing on a line with those two guys makes him feel young again. The question remains if Jumbo Joe will be able to keep up with the Leafs' young guns.
The Leafs signed free agents Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Barabanov, Travis Boyd, Aaron Dell, Michael Hutchenson and Mikko Lehtonen and they traded Andreas Johnsson to the New Jersey Devils for Joey Anderson. Jason Spezza also resigned from the team.
The big question this year will be goaltender Frederick Andersen as his contract is up this year and he is coming off a bad season with the team. Andersen will be looking to bounce back this season his workload should be better as he has a reliable backup in Jack Campbell and as well as an upgraded defence where he shouldn’t have to face as many shots as he does. If Andersen can play as he has in the season’s past, I do believe that he can get them to the next level to where they want to be and if he plays to his capability, he will certainly get a nice payday in the offseason.
With all of the additions, the Maple Leafs added this offseason, I think they will have a good year and with a full season under Sheldon Keefe, the team will look different than they did last year. With Kyle Dubas addressing the problems that they had I expect them to be a force to reckon with in this division and they will be a hard team to play against night in and night out.
In conclusion, this division will be the most exciting out of the four as all of these teams have a heated rivalry with each other. The standings will be close, but I think it will look like this.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Calgary Flames
- Montreal Canadiens
- Edmonton Oilers
- Vancouver Canucks
- Winnipeg Jets
- Ottawa Senators
This is going to be such an exciting hockey season and just like many fans, I cannot wait for the puck to drop Wednesday night.
Photo Credits: Getty Images