It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be wild. It even has the potential of being insane. The 2021 season is getting underway and Canada is watching. To make things even more interesting, there will be an all-Canadian division for the first time in the NHL’s long history. Fans from seven teams, with perhaps the exception of the Ottawa Senators, feel like their team has what it takes to make the playoffs. So imagine the passion that will be displayed from coast to coast! With a minimum of eight games against every team, rivalries will be created or renewed. Passionate fans will be bickering more than ever.
The Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames already don’t like each other. The battle of Alberta will be in full strides, particularly if the Oilers can be competitive. The Canadiens and Senators don’t like each other since they face each other in a couple of playoffs series a few years back. Because the Toronto Maple Leafs have been irrelevant for so long, the rivalry with Montreal had cooled off. In fact, Montreal has a bigger rivalry with the Bruins than they do with the Leafs. But now that Toronto is better, it won’t take much to reignite the oldest rivalry of the NHL. And the Jets? Well… they’ll build their own rivalry.
To make matters worse, the teams closest geographically will be facing each other a whooping 10 times! In order to make the schedule work with seven teams, they will be facing two teams 10 times. They will be competing with the other teams nine times each. Now do you see what I mean by getting insane?
Looking at the schedules, teams will often play three games in four nights, sometimes even four games in five nights! We see that sometimes in junior hockey, but at the NHL level, that’s insane! And that’s where team depth will be a determinant factor more than ever. One goalie won’t be able to play every game so the need for a solid tandem will be primordial. In this division, the Habs (Price-Allen), the Flames (Markstrom-Rittich) and the Canucks (Holtby-Demko) are in the best position.
On defense, one would be hard pressed to find a team with more depth than Montreal. Weber, Chiarot, Petry, Edmundson, Kulak, Romanov and Mete are the seven they will keep. And then they have Ouellet (who played a regular shift in the team’s impressive playoffs), Gustavson and Fleury with substantial NHL experience. Calgary seems to always have a good defense and the Maple Leafs are the North Division poor boys on the back end, at least for teams aspiring to the top spots.
On offense, the Leafs, Oilers, Jets and the Flames are top heavy, particularly the first three teams mentioned. With the addition of Toffoli, Perry and Frolik (if those two clear waivers), the Canadiens have the most quality depth however. So it’s the old adage: Is a team better having a few star players and little depth or have good players and quality depth on every line. Ideally, you have both but in the case of those teams, it’s not. I guess time will tell on this one.
If you look at every position, the Flames and Canadiens have the most balanced teams. Montreal seems to have the most depth in case of injuries but also, with their taxi squad as well. And they have players who could step up from the NHL and not cost the team. And that’s the reason why I have the Flames finishing first, followed by the Canadiens. But it should be tight all season, particularly with the Leafs. Either way, there’s electricity in the air and sparks will be flying sooner rather than later. Go Habs Go!