The NHL is finally back! Due to COVID-19, it’s been a long offseason and the months have been filled with meetings at all the wrong kinds of boards. Now, however, it’s back with all new divisions so let’s go through the season predictions for the upcoming season.
Predictions For The Scotia North:
Starting off with the toughest of the newly formed divisions. The all-Canadian division has some top teams in it, and ranking them is rough since five teams can win it, without it being overly farfetched thinking.
1st: Toronto Maple Leafs
While the North Division is still the stronger division, the Leafs are out of the Atlantic Division where Boston and Tampa were a thorn in their side, they finally have a chance to conquer the top spot of a division. With a shortened season where Frederik Andersen won"t be overworked like in previous seasons and a much stronger looking defense with the addition of TJ Brodie, the Leafs are poised to make a deep run and win the division.
2nd: Montreal Canadians
The Canadians are possibly the most balanced team of this division. They have exciting youth in Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov who support a roster with talent down the lineup. Josh Anderson has come in to replace Max Domi and the question is if he can find his game from before his injuries. With a strong defense and Carey Price in net, this can take the Canadians far and should bring them into the playoff despite the strength of the division.
3rd: Edmonton Oilers
Never underestimate a team with Connor McDavid, especially a team that also has Leon Draisaitl. That was the lesson last season, where they almost singlehandedly took the Oilers to the play-in rounds. The squad was an AHL roster in a lot of ways, but with the play of those superstars, they managed to win games.
This year the team is much stronger and deeper, having added Jesse Puljujärvi and Kyle Turris. The only question is if Mikko Koskinen can stay as sharp as last season. If he does, the Oilers could make a charge for far higher than third in the division. If he isn’t, then the Oilers might miss out entirely.
4th: Calgary Flames
Similar to last year, they have most of the things needed to be a cup contender on paper. They have a good offense with players in their prime like Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm, mixed with young players oozing with talent like Matthew Tkachuk. Add to that a good blueline and, for the first time in a long while, a strong goalie in Jacob Markstrom.
Goaltending has been their weakness for years, but that gap seems to have been filled. Everything looks good enough to even finish top of the division, so why are they only squeezing in. Well, this seems like it will be yet another false dawn for the Flames, where they can’t make it work like the prior three seasons.
5th: Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks top six might be one of the most exciting in the entire league. Adding Nils Hoglander to an offense with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat seem nearly criminal. However, the weakness comes in the depth where they just aren’t as strong as the rest of the top Canadian teams. Defensively adding Nate Schmidt is a great addition and will help a lot.
They did lose Markstrom and this could be what cost them a spot in the top four since there are major question marks on what Braden Holtby can bring. If it’s the 2018 version, the sky is the limit. If it’s the 2020 version, they won’t make any noise in the toughest division in the 2021 season. They live and die by goaltending this season.
6th: Winnipeg Jets
How the mighty has fallen. Two seasons ago the Jets looked poised to become the next Canadian team to make it to a cup final. Their offense is safe as back then. Heck, they even managed to get back Paul Stastny, but their defense is what lets them down. It"s potentially the worst in the league and it will be up to Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck to do it all. While great players, they more than likely need some help and that won’t be enough when they are facing so many good teams all season long.
7th Ottawa Senators
They are looking the best they have in a long while. They are young and exciting, with players like Tim Stutzle being the most interesting. However, he is far from the only player in the Senator"s top six. Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson.
This is the future for the Senators, but unfortunately, their defense lets them down. Thomas Chabot is going to have his work cut out for him, as the rest is far from NHL ready. In the offseason, they did manage to strengthen in net as they brought in Matt Murray and he will be good addition but it won’t be enough to take them out of the bottom in the division, although it might be close.
Honda West Division:
The West is a lot easier since the gap between the bottom three teams and the rest of the five is quite a lot bigger. At the top of the standings Colorado, Vegas, and St. Louis also look fairly certain to make it, and the only question is involving the last playoff spot.
1st: Colorado Avalanche
They"re Stanley Cup favorites with good reason. Up and down the roster, the Colorado Avalanche has firepower unmatchable by most teams in the league. They have an offense with Nathan MacKinnon as the superstar with depth from Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin. Defensively they have the best in the league, adding Devon Toews to it from last season. The only minor weakness is in the net. Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz are far from a bad tandem and they just need to be average in order for the Avalanche to win the division.
2nd: Vegas Golden Knights
Last year, they were stunned by Dallas in the Western Conference finals. It was an upset that took away a great chance to glory for the newest NHL team. This season they replaced Schmidt with the big fish of the offseason, Alex Pietrangelo. This addition gives them a blueline that isn’t far behind the Avalanche, and in the net, they"re slightly better with Robin Lehner. The offense is pretty much the same as it was last season and it still a great team. They are a cup contender, but sadly they are in the same division as the Avalanche, so they will place second.
3rd: St. Louis Blues
They lost their keystone on defense to Vegas in the offseason but added Torey Krug as a good replacement, so the Blues are looking to return to the playoff and avenge their loss in the first round. The defense is looking great and the offense is also filled with talent. However, an injury to Vladimir Tarasenko could prove very costly for the Blues.
In net, Jordan Binnington needs to regain his form of two years ago, where he was looking far from nervous. In the series against Vancouver in the playoffs, he was looking very average and without Jake Allen as a backup, more is required from the 27-year-old goalie. This means they are slightly below the top two of the division and they have to be happy that the division is lacking the same firepower as Colorado and Vegas.
4th: Minnesota Wild
It’s a new look Minnesota Wild we are going to see this season. Captain Mikko Koivu is gone and so is longtime starter Devan Dubnyk. The arrivals are Cam Talbot, who will hold down the fort, and Kirill Kaprizov who has finally arrived and will be able to play, a player that has been hyped to be the superstar that Minnesota has been needing for over a decade.
Offensively, they lack center depth which takes away from their decent wingers like Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala. On the backend, Jared Spurgeon will be wearing the C and the top four of Minnesota is their strongest weapon. It’s up with the very best in the league. This should help Talbot take the Wild into the playoff, due to the weakness of the western division.
5th: Arizona Coyotes
2020 has been a turbulent year for the Arizona Coyotes. With the department of their GM, a loss of draft picks, the offseason couldn’t have gone much worse for the Coyotes and it shows on the roster. Offensively, they lost Taylor Hall and are now without a superstar.
They are a team in turmoil and what makes them competitive is a strong defense and goaltending. Especially Darcy Kuemper was fantastic last year and played out of his mind. Should he continue this play from the 2020 playoff, do the Coyotes have a chance of making the playoff ahead of the Wild? If he is anything less, they will miss out.
6th: San Jose Sharks
Last season was about as bad as a season could be for the San Jose Sharks. Nothing worked for them, and they weren’t even able to use their top draft pick. This season looks to be more of the same, although they at least have their draft pick. On paper, they do have some quality on the roster, but most have some question marks outside their name.
Most importantly is Erik Karlsson, who is claiming that he is healthy. If true, the Sharks might have a chance at an upset and make the playoff. This would also take one of Dubnyk or Martin Jones to find a second youth and return to form. It"s doubtful that will happen, so they will miss out and have to brace for another poor season.
7th: Anaheim Ducks
They might have one of the best goaltenders in the league in John Gibson but the rest of the roster is currently limited for talent. Rickard Rakell has to drive the offense as father time is catching up to Ryan Getzlaf. In terms of depth, Sam Steel could be one to watch but it won"t be enough offensively, where the Ducks will be desperately waiting for the emergence of Trevor Zegras. Defensively Kevin Shattenkirk was picked up and he does help the backend which is their strongest point, but it won’t be enough. It’s a transition season of the rebuild for the Ducks.
8th: Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have one of the best prospect pools in the league. A pool that was strengthened a lot with Quinton Byfield in the 2020 draft. However, these prospects are all prospects for the future. In this season they will most likely struggle as they once again rely on the aging core of Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar offensively. Andreas Athanasiou helps but it"s not enough to get them out of the basement.
It"s especially tough with a weak defense that is relying on Drew Doughty regaining his dominant game from 2017. In net, the same goes for Jonathan Quick. Due to goaltending alone, Anaheim finishes above the Kings, who will get yet another high draft pick as a consolation prize.
MassMutual East Division:
Another powerhouse division that took some of the best of the Metro and Atlantic had to offer. While the top team is a step above the rest, there are six other teams right behind them fighting for the last two spots in the playoff.
1st: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are a team with a nearly perfect mixture of young talent like Joel Farabee and veteran leadership like Claude Giroux. They really don’t have a noticeable weakness on paper and will be hungry to avenge last season"s loss in the playoff. They strengthened with Erik Gustafsson on the defensive area, which should help their powerplay in particular. In net, Carter Hart is a year older and should only be better this season. They are a clear cup contender and should win the division comfortably
2nd: Washington Capitals
The championship team from 2018 is still mostly intact and it"s as scary as ever. Age is starting to catch up to them and the window might be starting to close, but they are still with a chance to repeat their cup win. In net, Holtby was let go in free agency and the successor to the starting job is Ilya Samsonov. The team is strong, deep, and will be expected to make the playoff and make it far in it.
3rd: New York Islanders
Never underestimate the Islanders. That is a lesson many have learned over the years. Signing Matthew Barzal was of the utmost importance, and with Barry Trotz at the helm, the defensive structure of the Islanders will be among the best in the league. Last year they almost found a way past the eventual winners from the Tampa Bay Lightnings, and this season they will look to do better with Ilya Sorokin finally arriving from Russia. The only worry is if they can refill the cap left by Toews.
4th: New York Rangers
It’s the beginning of a new era for the Rangers where the rebuild looks to be near complete in record time. Two top draft picks in the past two seasons and some proven superstars in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad will do that. Out of New York is Henrik Lundqvist and while the gap in the leadership might be hard to replace in the lockerroom, Igor Shesterkin should fill in on the ice.
The one area where the Rangers might struggle is in the defensive, where they are relying on younger and less proven players alongside Jacob Trouba and Jack Johnson. If they can avoid injuries, they have what it takes to challenge for more than just making it, but their depth can’t handle too many blows to the core and that could be costly down the line.
5th: Boston Bruins
The injury to David Pastrnak is going to hurt the Bruins" ambitions this season severely early on. In a shortened season it"s paramount to get off to a strong start and especially in a strong division like the east. Pastrnak has been one of the best goalscorers in the NHL for the past few seasons and will be missed alongside long term captain Zdeno Chara.
It’s a new look defensive core that’s going to bring them home and the lack of Chara and Krug has made it look a lot weaker on paper. Someone needs to step up and if they don’t, it might be what makes them miss the playoff for the first time in five years.
6th: Buffalo Sabres
They spent big in the offseason and managed to get a winger to complement Jack Eichel. Hall arrived and the offense of the Sabers suddenly looks far more exciting. Add to it prospects like Dylan Cozens who had a wonderful World Juniors and 2020 first-rounder Jack Quinn and the offensive firepower is up there with the best in the league.
In defense, it"s lacking with Rasmus Dahlin needing to do it all. And in the net, Linus Ullmark needs to find a different level than he has previously. If he can, the Sabers could break the curse and make the playoff. If he doesn’t It might be another false dawn.
7th: Pittsburgh Penguins
The destruction of the Penguins dynasty with Sidney Crosby as the centerpiece might have happened back when Montreal Canadians upset them in the play-in rounds. The core is still around, but father time is starting to catch up to it. In terms of the supporting cast, there isn’t much, and while they made a trade with Toronto for Kasperi Kapanen, it seems mostly to try and delay the inevitable downfall.
The offense is carried by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and the defense is by Kris Letang. The rest of it is average and goaltending wise they lost Murray which leaves Tristan Jarry as the starter, a job where he is unproven. All this taken into consideration, this might be the year the Pens crumble and miss the playoff.
8th: New Jersey Devils
The unfortunate whipping boy of the east. They"re a young and talented team with Jack Hughes looking to rebound from last season alongside a few other exciting players on both sides of the puck. However, their depth is what can cost them, and especially defensively, they were awful last season. Mackenzie Blackwood was shelled last season and that can"t happen again. This is a transition season, where all they need to try and do is to improve the prospects.
Discover Central Division:
This division is similar to the west in many ways. There are three teams that are a step above the rest, with three teams in the basement who are either past it or rebuilding. That leaves two teams in the middle fighting for the final spot in the playoff.
1st: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Stanley Cup winners of 2020. One season after suffering one of the greatest upsets, they managed to avenge it. This season the team is mostly the same apart from one very major piece. Nikita Kucherov is out for the regular season at least. A massive hit to the Lightning, but one they can combat with their elite team. Even without Kucherov, the offense is still filled with stars. The defense contains Norris Trophy favorite Victor Hedman and in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning will win the division and is the favorite to win the cup once again.
2nd: Carolina Hurricanes
Based on pure skill alone, the Hurricanes might be the best team in the league. They"re super talented and with offensive firepower that can match anyone. Their defense is in the better half of the league as well, with players in their prime. The one weakness is goaltending where James Reimer or Petr Mrazek have been inconsistent for multiple seasons.
When they are on their game, they can be worldbeaters. When not, it derails the elite team that is the Hurricanes. If they have a season with average to good goaltending, the Hurricanes might be the best challenger to Tampa Bay in the entire league.
3rd: Dallas Stars
The last challenger for Tampa last year was the Stars who won 14 playoff games but fell short at the last hurdle. Tyler Seguin will be out for a large duration of the season but hopefully can return at the end. This loss will make them lose terrain with the top teams but due to their strong depth down the lineup and incredibly strong defense, they should be able to make it comfortably into the playoff.
4th: Columbus Blue Jackets
The fourth team making the playoff from the central division will be the Blue Jackets due to their nicely balanced team, that while lacking a genuine superstar has enough depth on all fronts to take them into the playoff. Setting up another date with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On offense, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Domi will be essential for goalscoring, along with newly signed Pierre-Luc Dubois. At defense, Seth Jones is reaching his prime and in net, the tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo should make the Blue Jackets capable of shutting down offenses through the season. It will be close, but the Jackets will make it once again.
5th: Florida Panthers
It’s a new-look offense for the Panthers who have replaced Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov with Anthony Duclair and Patric Hornqvist. Players that don’t look nearly as dangerous as the former and it seems that they have taken a step backward since last season. Defensively they do still look solid, but their main question is goaltending. Last year, Sergei Bobrovsky had a nightmare season. He needs to return to the form that made the Panthers spend $10 million per season for his services if the Panthers are to have a chance of reaching the playoff.
6th: Nashville Predators
The Predators look very similar to last season, and many of the players from their 2017 run are still here. Time however has hit the team, and the window seems to have closed. Pekka Rinne is aging fast and Juuse Saros has never quite been able to take over as the new starter. The question of Saros will be the same. Is he ready to start and can he handle a starter"s workload? Outside of the goaltending, the defense is still their strength, with some of the best defenders in the league. Offensively, goalscoring once again falls into question and it will be what becomes their downfall.
7th: Chicago Blackhawks
Brace yourself Blackhawk fans, this season will be rough. After the dynasty in the 2010s, the time has caught up with the former stars. Corey Crawford called it an end to a magical career, leaving Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban as the tandem. It is one of, if not the weakest, in the league on paper. Captain Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely and Kirby Dach, their best prospect, got hurt in a warmup game to the World Juniors.
This leaves the offense relying on Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat on the first line, since it"s limited what support they will get. Defensively Duncan Keith will once again be the top liner but at 37 years old, it"s questionable how much he will be able to do. This is going to be rough on all fronts for the Blackhawks.
8th: Detroit Red Wings
One team that will have it worse than the Blackhawks will be the Red Wings. One of the most unfortunate teams when it comes to the draft lottery. While Lucas Raymond is a great player, it stings to once again see them miss out on the first overall pick. Their first line is actually quite good, but the supporting cast is lacking in quality. The same goes for the defense and in the net where Thomas Greiss is the new starter. This is another season in their rebuild and they will be hoping the draft gods favor them more than last year.
main image credit