Can you imagine an All-Canadian NHL Division? Can you imagine the fan bases going at it each and every night? Worse, imagine if the NHL decided that there will be no border crossing, facing US-based teams all season, until the Stanley Cup semi-finals or even Finals? Now that’s how you build rivalries! But boy oh boy will we think the other fan bases are annoying… as they will think of us, Habs’ fans.
A little while ago, we did a piece on the possible All-Canadian division. We looked mostly at how the Canadiens and Maple Leafs’ would fare in those conditions. What we haven’t done is a projection of where they could finish in the standings in such a division. Some new information came out this week from le Réseaux des Sports (RDS – French TSN), from one of the NHL’s best Insiders in Pierre LeBrun.
Pros speak up
LeBrun polled 15 NHL executives, coaches and scouts and asked them for their prediction in an All-Canadian division. We’re not talking about fanboyism or biased opinions here folks, but professionals in the field of NHL hockey, people hired in the NHL. Here’s what they predicted:
This past Sunday, I was a panelist on the Hockey Sans Limites podcast and we were asked what we thought the standings would look like. Here’s what I had predicted:
So basically, the only difference between those NHL executive and my prediction sits with the Calgary Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The reason why I ranked them the way I did is because I really like what the Flames have done this off-season. One of the biggest (if not the biggest) reasons why they couldn’t take the next step was the same reason the Edmonton Oilers did poorly: goaltending. The Flames went out and got perhaps the most underrated goalie on the market in Jacob Markstrom. They paid dearly for him, throwing $36 million at him over six years, with a cap hit of $6 million per season. But they filled a gaping hole in their lineup.
The Flames also added former Canucks’ number two defenseman Chris Tanev to an already solid defensive core. They went out and added quality depth and some much needed speed as well. With Markstrom and Rittich in net, they now have a very solid goaltending duo, which not only shouldn’t lose them games, but should win them some.
As for the Leafs, as demonstrated in the article linked above, I feel like they have done some lateral moves at best. They might even have taken a slight step back as their defense is weaker than it was. They seem to be counting on old legs, very old, slow legs, to push them over the top, which could quickly become their downfall. But they can still rely on four players counting for about half their cap. Theses guys do produce but as we’ve witnessed every year, they can’t do it all. In my humble opinion, they need to trade William Nylander for a solid top-pairing defenseman. Only then will they be taken more seriously.
Then 3 Western Teams
Winnipeg is big and strong and have good players at every position. They are also very experienced and should give the top teams all they can handle. Their lack of depth, particularly on defense, is the reason why I put them fourth. How will a compressed season work out on their older legs and grinding style of play? That’s the question.
Unlike what some fans out East think, the Oilers’ biggest problem was not defense, an area where the young guys are improving greatly. No, they shared the same problem as the Flames did, in goal. But unlike the Flames, Edmonton was too tight against the cap and while they tried getting Markstrom, they lost that battle due to cap restraints. For a team where goaltending was the issue, the team took a mind boggling decision in bringing back Mike Smith as a free agent. So your team’s problem is goaltending and you bring back the same two goalies. That doesn’t make any sense, particularly not when there where so many other options out there.
The Canucks for a good young team and we’ve seen that in the playoffs. When you have guys like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, that’s a solid foundation. J. T. Miller has come into his own for the Canucks. Where it gets complicated is on defense. Losing Tanev leaves a big hole and quality minutes on their blue line. Nate Schmidt will help the powerplay and on offense, but he’s not the one who will be providing support to his goaltenders. Their biggest question mark is in net. If Tatcher Demko can play the way he did in his couple of playoffs’ games, they’ll be fine. Because Brayden Holtby, at this point in his career, is a big downgrade from Markstrom. Holtby has lost his starter role twice in the last two season on a strong Washington team.
Canadian teams poor boys
Then there’s the Senators. Young, fast, but very, very inexperienced. They will have the talent and speed to beat anyone on any given night so if a team takes a night off against them, they could get at the wrong end of the scoreboard. But with youth comes inconsistency and that’s what will ultimately cost the Sens in the long run.
This division would be extremely competitive and the points’ difference between teams should be minimal, making for an exciting season. Plus let’s face it: every game will be for bragging rights between strong Canadian fan bases. So can we get started already? But first, I have a question for you. If you were asked for your standings, what would they be and why? Go Habs Go!