The 2021 National Hockey League season starts Wednesday, January 13th. This year, teams are split into four divisions.
Here's the first of four division forecasts. In this article, we look at the North Division, which includes all of the teams from Canada.
Here's a look at the ODDS TO WIN NORTH DIVISION, according to SPREADS.CA:
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto’s successes and failures for the past few years has really led to this season. Toronto’s analytical mentality has been questioned in a market that has a strong sense of it hockey history. They have one of the most expensive top lines in the league, but that spending has led to weakness throughout the rest of the lineup. Toronto has two solid defensemen, Morgan Reilly, and Jake Muzzin, that could be the most balanced in the division, with Reilly possibly a good Norris candidate. In net, Fredrick Andersen is in a contract year. He has had some questions in how many games he should be playing, leading to questions when the playoffs begin. Back-up Jack Campbell will cut into games started and provide some quality goaltending. I predict this team should make the playoffs and compete for the top spot.
Montreal is one of the league's most storied franchises but has not seen a championship since 1993. For a team that identifies “hockey” with “Canada”, and its rich history, this team has the chance to make a solid playoff run. All-world goalie, Carey Price, can carry a team in a playoff series. He has a solid back-up in Jake Allen. Both should get playing time and be very fresh this season. In addition, Montreal’s forwards are young and quick, with several prospects in the minors. Their biggest flaw maybe their overall team defense, seeing a drop after captain Shea Weber. Look for making a trade for a rental defensemen, using some trade capital. I predict Montreal will make the playoffs.
The Flames made two very big moves, signing teammates defensemen Chris Tanev and goalie Jacob Markstrom to long term deals. I see these moves as a little overboard and desperate for a franchise that could see some overhaul in the coming years if they do not achieve playoff success. As for the rest of the team, their lineup is gritty and strong, relying on timely scoring. Defensemen Mark Giordano is a former Norris winner and could still be in consideration, especially in a shorten season. This division could be tough for Calgary, I like them to barely make the playoffs.
Edmonton has one of the top forwards, Conor McDavid, and reigning MVP Leon Drisdel. Both players mimic Pittsburgh stars Malkin and Crosby, in terms of development and career paths. So, now would be the time both players start to achieve playoff success, making deep runs in the postseason or gaining that experience to be a champion in the foreseeable future. Edmonton, however, has several issues in their rosters. Their bottom six forward lines need an identifiable leader, someone to plug in and provide two-way play. They have decent goalies (aging Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen), who would be very good back-ups for any other teams, but they are tasked with leading this team. McDavid could be a point-a-game player and should be in the MVP discussion, so his output might shine out their weaknesses and keep the team in games. They could miss the playoffs or fight for the last spot.
The Jets have a huge problem. They have a dynamic scorer that is unhappy with his role and place within the organization and is in a contract year. Patrick Laine is a viable bet for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals in a season) and would be a huge get for any team. He might be traded, he might sign an extension, he might not play. His success/failure should be watched all season. Aside from Laine, Winnipeg has a good team that focuses on balance and good goaltending. Look for goalie Connor Hellebuyck to have another solid year, after winning the Vezina last year. Winnipeg should challenge for a playoff spot, 3rd/4th place.
Ottawa management made a statement over the offseason, saying that Ottawa will compete for a championship in the next five years. Ottawa made a good trade, acquiring goalie Matt Murray, signed winger Evgenii Dadonov, and drafted future stars Jake Sanderon and Tim Stuetzle. Overall, Ottawa may have had the best offseason of any team, but do not expect immediate success. Look for the Senators to finish last in the division but could shock the division and finish 6th. They also could be more competitive in games, so watch matchups for individual games.
The Canucks 2020 season lead to a second-round berth, beating defending champions Blues, while featuring stars Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko. They added solid defensemen Nate Schmidt, in a cost-cutting move, and signed veteran Braden Holtby to bolster their goaltending depth. Giving the success and young talent, Vancouver would be a good bet for this season, maybe being a dark horse for leading the division. Do not be fooled! Look for Vancouver to take a step back, taking this season to clear their cap issues, and building up for next year. Vancouver will be a great watch for fans but should finish outside of the playoffs. My boldest prediction--Vancouver finishes last in the division, behind Ottawa.
Predictions by PS.CA NHL writer Patrick Day, who lives in St. Louis and is a Blues fan, but didn't let that sway his judgement. Patrick can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org