Overview of the NHL Northern Division

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Overview of the Northern Division
Carey Price

Due to the constraints imposed by the pandemic, the 31 NHL teams have been realigned into four new divisions for the upcoming season. below we bring you an overview of the Northern Division, which includes all seven Canadian teams.

Montreal Canadiens

The pandemic has served Montreal Canadiens well. As bad as the pandemic is, it allowed the team to enter the playoffs through the back door (24th place), and contributed to the emergence of its two young centremen Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

The victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the preliminary round convinced the hockey world of the team’s future aspirations and accelerated the reset process. Tyler Toffoli (LA) and Joel Edmundson (STL) agreed to join the team as free agents. Jake Allen and Josh Anderson (COL) did not hesitate to sign a contract extension after being acquired by general manager Marc Bergevin.

Overview of the Northern Division
Carey Price
Courtesy of NHL Trade Talk

Expectations are now high in Montreal. For the first time in decades, the Habs have young offensive centers worthy of their status. Anderson and Toffoli have come in in order to occupy positions on the wings and also to add some toughness and size to a formation that has been considered small in the last few years.

Romanov is Impressive at Training Camp

Another hopeful arrival in the organization, Alexander Romanov, was added on defense and was given not only a regular roster spot, but also a place in the second power play unit. His arrival was eagerly awaited and from the training camp observations, Romanov has been playing like a veteran. Romanov was named the best defensemen at the 2019 World Junior Championship and was selected to the 2019 World Junior All-Star Team the following year.

The arrival of veteran goalie Jake Allen will provide Carey Price with much needed rest in a compressed schedule. Allen re-launched his career last year with the St. Louis Blues and even stole Jordan Binnington’s spot in the playoffs. If Carey Price is playing at the top of his game, the Canadiens have plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

Jeff Petry has been playing in Shea Weber’s shadow, but has quietly become the team’s number one defender. As a proof, he played slightly more minutes than Weber at the end of last season and in the bubble during the playoffs. Last season, Petry recorded his third consecutive 40-point or more season.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

Alexander Romanov won’t be a quarterback like Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes, but the way the coaching staff and management confirmed his roster spot before the training camp begins speaks volumes. Marc Bergevin sees him as a defenseman capable of playing 24, 25 minutes a game in a few years.

Who Needs to Give More?

Obtained for Mikhail Sergachev, Jonathan Drouin seemed to be on quite a roll in the Fall of 2019, before he was injured. We are still waiting for his explosion on offense of this third NHL selection overall in 2013. Drouin still hasn’t reached the 55-point mark in one season.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

Carey Price remains the most important player of the Canadiens. He had a less than impressive season in terms of statistics when compared to his previous statistics, but he was outstanding in the playoffs with an goal against average of 1.78 and a save rate of, 936.

 2019-2020 Record: 31-31-9, 71 points

Regular Season Standings: 5th in the Atlantic Division

Playoff Run: First round defeat

Departed Players: Max Domi, Dale Weise, Charles Hudon, Christian Folin, Karl Alzner

New Arrivals : Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Alexander Romanov, Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Corey Perry, Michael Frolik

Ottawa Senators

General manager, Pierre Dorion has acquired many veterans last fall in order to ensure a certain transition in its reconstruction phase. But Evgeni Dadonov, Derek Stepan, Erik Gudbranson and Josh Brown are not necessarily core players and the future of the organization.

There is hope coming Tim Stützle, third overall in 2020, dominating at the World Junior Championship, Josh Norris, who is outstanding in his first season in the American Hockey League with 61 points in 56 games, Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, Alex Formenton and Logan Brown, and Brady Tkachuk, already well established in Ottawa. Defencemen Jake Sanderson, Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson are expected to follow in a year or two.

Stability in the net with Matt Murray

Dorion found a replacement for Craig Anderson in the off-season in Matt Murray. Matt Murray, 26, a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh, was acquired for a future prospect, Jonathan Gruden, and a second round pick. He was extended almost immediately by the Sens to a four-year extension worth $25 million. Needless to say, Ottawa was generous towards Murray but needed stability in net after Anderson’s departure. Murray just had his worst career-season and had lost the starting job with the Penguins to youngster Tristan Jarry.

Thomas Chabot
Courtesy of NHL.com

The Senators may surprise a few but we can expect them at the season start, but they should hit the wall eventually. Fans of the team can take solace in the fact that the future looks bright in the nation’s capital!

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

Forward Connor Brown, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs a year and a half ago, has just had his best season with 43 points, but his role may be slightly more limited this year.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

Tim Stützle, drafted from the San Jose Sharks’ first round draft pick in Erik Karlsson’s trade, has just collected 10 points in five games with Germany at the World Junior Championships. He will definitely be one rookie to watch

Who Needs to Give More?

After scoring 41 points in his first full NHL season, Colin White had only 23 last year. The Senators need him at center, while they wait for the others to emerge.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

At 23 years old, defenseman Thomas Chabot is already the team’s best player. He has collected 55 and 39 points in his last two seasons even though he is poorly surrounded. He has taken Karlsson’s elite status with the Senators and is a sure value to quaterback the Senators blueline.

2019-2020 Record: 25-34-12, 62 points

Regular Season Standings: 7th in the Atlantic Division

Playoff Run: Excluded from the playoffs

Departed Players: Anthony Duclair, Tyler Ennis, Bobby Ryan, Craig Anderson, Mark Borowiecki, Ron Hainsey

New Arrivals: Matt Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Evgeni Dadonov, Derek Stepan, Erik Gudbranson, Josh Brown, Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, Auston Watson

Toronto Maple Leafs

Pressure is mounting in the Maple Leafs’ management office after a qualifying round loss last summer while in the bubble. If you add this to the three first round eliminations in previous seasons, there are growing concerns amongst fans and close observers.


John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs Power Play
Courtesy of John E. Sokolowski – USA TODAY Sports

Toronto has retained its remarkable core of forwards with John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander, but with those four costing $41 million a year, they have had to purge salary in other positions. The question is how long can they keep those players and not win the Stanley Cup?

Two efficient and reliable forwards, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, left via transactions in the off-season. At least, they got a first round pick for Kapanen. If rookie Nic Robertson, 55 goals in 46 games from the Peterborough Pete’s in the OHL, and Ilya Mikheyev continue to improve, they will take the pressure off the star-studded foursome.

Toronto Made Significant Changes on the Blue Line

The defensive corps has changed a lot. Tyson Barrie, for whom Nazem Kadri was sacrificed for a year earlier, was let go after only a year with the Leafs. Cody Ceci also took advantage of his free agent status to sign on with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Barrie and Ceci did not perform as expected and the Leafs needed to reinforce with grit and some toughness. To replace them, they acquired two unrestricted free agents T. J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian. The Leafs opened their wallet to Brodie after a 19-point season in 64 games in Calgary by offering him $5 million a year for four years. Between the pipes, Frederik Andersen remains a decent goalie, poorly protected by a vulnerable defence.

The arrival of veterans Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds and the return of Jason Spezza – all signed at a discount – brings experience. But do they still have enough legs left? Thornton could even start the season with the first line. So there are question marks in Toronto as well for next season. The emergence of Sandin, Lehtonen, Robertson and Mikheyev could make a big difference.

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

Ilya Mikheyev, a former member of Bob Hartley’s Omsk Avangard, surprised with 23 points in 39 games. Let’s see if he can make a real name for himself in his second season in America.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

Nick Robertson, 19, scored 55 goals in 46 games in the Ontario Junior League last winter and played in the preliminary round with the Leafs. Toronto’s front office advised his 5’9″ forward, not to compete at the World Junior Championship in order to prepare for the NHL season.

Who Needs to Give More?

John Tavares scored 26 goals last year and picked up three points in five games in the preliminary round. That’s not enough for a player this high on the payroll.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

Auston Matthews, 23, was by far the best player on his team last year with 47 goals and 80 points. Did we really need to blow the salary cap by adding Tavares?

2019-2020 Record: 36-25-9, 81 points

Regular Season Standings: 3rd in the Atlantic Division

Playoffs Run: Defeat in the preliminary round

Departed Players: Cody Ceci, Tyson Barrie, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Frédérik Gauthier

New Arrivals: T. J. Brodie, Mikko Lehtonen, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds

Winnipeg Jets

Patrik Laine said upon his arrival at the training camp that he was there and there was nothing more to add. The Jets young star no longer appears to be interested in playing in Winnipeg but was unable to be traded. Price asked by the Jets is high and many teams are not able financially to accept Laine’s contract. Laine’s next contract promises to be in the Auston Matthews range. And as we all know, Manitoba, like Columbus, is not a very popular destination for NHL stars.

The Jets were expected to do worse last year with the loss of four defencemen: Dustin Byfuglian, Jacob Trouba, Tylers Myers and Ben Chiarot. However, the team was able to hold on to a place at the bottom of the standings in the fight for a playoff spot. It would have missed them by almost nothing, if the playoff format had not been restructured.

Patrick Laine
Photo: Courtesy of NHL.com

As expected, the Jets were defeated in four games by the Calgary Flames by a combined score of 16-6. The matchup ended with losses of 6-2 and 4-0. As a note, the loss of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in the first game obviously didn’t help the Jets chances.

The Jets didn’t really improve in the off-season. The arrival of Paul Stastny will help fill a void on the second line at center, but he will turn 35 in December and his production dropped in Vegas last year. If he can provide some contributions offensively for a year, by the time their first choice of 2020, Cole Perfetti, is ready, management will be satisfied.

Defense a Big Question Mark for the Jets this Season

On defense, there are some gaps. Josh Morrissey is one of the most underestimated defensemen in the NHL and Neal Pionk, earned with a first round pick for Trouba, saved the day last year with 45 points, but the quality drops afterwards. Former Ottawa Senators defenceman Dylan DeMelo was offered a generous four-year, $12 million contract by the trade deadline for a third round draft pick. DeMelo is a defensive-minded defenseman who scored 10 points in 59 games last year. Thankfully, there are no worries in front of the net with 27-year-old Connor Hellebuyck, one of the good goaltenders in the National Hockey League. In short, the Jets will have to be hoping for some nice surprises from their youngsters if they want to make the playoffs this season. They can’t be considered in the top group in a Canadian division at this time.

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

Josh Morrissey plays almost 23 minutes per game and is able to collect about 30 points per season. He is only 25 years old and the Jets would be in a world of hurt on defense, if it wasn’t for him.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

In an ideal world, the first pick of 2019, 19-year-old left-handed defenseman Ville Heinola, would be ready this season. Heinola started the season in Winnipeg last year, scoring five points in eight games, but was sent back to the minors (he returned to Finland after three games in the American Hockey League) to complete his development. Heinola just picked up four assists in seven games at the World Junior Championships.

Who Needs to Give More?

After scoring 36 and 44 goals in his first two seasons, Patrik Laine scored only 30 and 28 in his last two. He doesn’t seem interested in playing for the Jets and this could be a team distraction this year. Based on the current situation with COVID-19, he may end up playing the whole season in Winnipeg.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

Mark Scheifele is their top forward and the team’s best player. He is also their leader and is indispensable for the Jets to make the playoffs. At 27 years old, he is in the prime of his career and he would have had a second 80-points season, had it not been for the season stoppage last March.

2019-2020 Record: 37-28-6, 80 points

Regular Season Standings: 5th in the Central Division

Playoffs Run: Defeat in the preliminary round

Departed Players: Dmitri Kulikov, Cody Eakin

New Arrivals : Paul Stastny, Ville Heinola, Nate Thompson, Derek Forbort

Calgary Flames

The Flames believe they have finally solved their goalie issue during the off-season with the signing of Jakob Markström as an unrestricted free agent market.

CEO Brad Treliving offered $36 million over six seasons to the former Vancouver Canucks starting goalie. But transplanting a goalie from one organization to another and covering him with gold is often risky. Talk to the Florida Panthers with Sergei Bobrovsky, the Philadelphia Flyers with Ilya Bryzgalov, the Chicago Blackhawks with Cristobal Huet or the Carolina Hurricanes with Scott Darling.

Mark Giordano
Photo: Courtesy of James Franson

On defense, the Flames have lost their number two, T. J. Brodie and replaced him by a less offense minded defenseman, Chris Tanev, and Mark Giordano is not getting any younger. Tanev is expected to play with Giordano on the first pair. He was limited to 19 minutes game playing minutes on average last year in Vancouver.

The core offense group remains the untouched. A first line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm dominated the season but faded in the playoffs. A young powerhouse on the second line with winger Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund along with a decent center completes what constitutes the bulk of the offense for the Flames. Elsewhere, you have players like Milan Lucic which may show some scoring but otherwise it will be questionable depth for the Calgary Flames.

The Flames are hard to pin down. Since the dismissal of Bob Hartley in 2016, they have not won a single playoff round. And yet, many experts place them among the favourites at the start of each season.

In short, the Flames could be a more vulnerable club in a Canadian style division…

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

Defenseman Rasmus Andersson has just had his best offensive season at 23 years old with 22 points, and 5 goals, including 3 goals, in 10 playoff games, last summer.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

The 2017 first round pick, defender Juuso Valimaki, returns after a year-long absence. The 22-year-old left-handed defenseman scored 14 points in as many games this fall at Ilves in the Finnish Elite League.

Who Needs to Give More?

After scoring 82 points the previous season, Sean Monahan scored only 48 last winter. But he rebounded with eight points in 10 playoff games.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

Captain Mark Giordano remains the mainstay, but at 37 years of age (two more than Shea Weber), he is slowing down. His production went from 74 to 31 points in one year.

2019-2020 Record: 36-27-7, 79 points

Regular Season Standings: 4th in the Western Division

Playoff Run: Defeat in the first round

Departed Players: Cam Talbot, T. J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Mark Jankowski

Main Arrivals : Jakob Markström, Chris Tanev, Nikita Nesterov, Juuso Valimaki, Dominik Simon

Edmonton Oilers

Some are already burying the Oilers because they lost their number one defenseman Oscar Klefbom for the season. But the team is no longer short of defenseman with Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear, Adam Larsson, and youngsters Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg at the door of the NHL. Seth’s brother Caleb Jones is also in the plans and Tyson Barrie has been signed, as an unrestricted free agent.

Despite criticism and misperceptions, the Edmonton Oilers were last year’s top Canadian team during the regular season with a 37-25-9 record, two points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Oilers Have a Solid Balance Now on Offense and Defense

The Oilers also resolved their wing depth problem. Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are getting better and better. Right wing Kailer Yamamoto, 22, emerged after his recall from the minors with 26 points in 27 games. Fourth overall pick in 2016, Jesse Puljujärvi has just returned home after a “strike” in Finland. He scored 53 points in 56 games in Karpat. The low-cost signing of a third-line centreman in Kyle Turris, will keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on McDavid’s left side. He just had his best season ever at age 27 with 65 points in 69 games, or 77 points for a full season.

Connor McDavid
Photo: Courtesy Olivier Jean – La Presse

However, general manager Ken Holland has not been able to find a top goaltender. He has retained Mike Smith, who will once again team up with new number one Mikko Koskinen. The 32-year-old Finnish goaltender wasn’t so bad last year with an average of 2.75 and a save rate of .917, which is significantly higher than the previous season. The Oilers are not expected to regress despite a poor performance in the preliminary round against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

At 22 years of age last year, Ethan Bear, a fifth round pick in 2015, was the most used defenceman on the right, ahead of Adam Larsson.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

Coach Dave Tippett always opens the locker room doors to the rookies with some reluctance. Right-handed defenceman Evan Bouchard is not far from the NHL. The young man scored 36 points in 54 games at only 20 years old in the American Hockey League last year.

Who Needs to Give More?

Adam Larsson seems to enjoy a focused defensive role. The defenseman acquired for Taylor Hall had only six points, including a goal, in 49 games. That’s not much for a fourth overall pick in 2011.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

Connor McDavid remains the star player in this organization, even though Leon Draisaitl scored more points than him last year. A talented two-headed monster!

2019-2020 Record: 37-25-9, 83 points

Regular Season Standings: 2nd in the Western Division

Playoffs Run: Loss in the preliminary round

Departed Players: Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou

Main Arrivals: Kyle Turris, Tyson Barrie, Jesse Puljujärvi, Dominik Kahun

Vancouver Canucks

If Tatcher Demko performs as he did in the playoffs, the Canucks won’t miss Jakob Markstrom. In four games against Vegas, this long-awaited prospect for so many years in Vancouver had a goal against average 0.64 and had a save percentage of .985. The sample is thin, however, and CEO Jim Benning wisely signed former Capitals starting goalie, Braden Holtby, to back him up.

Elias Petterson
Photo: Courtesy of Ben Nelms Canadian Press

Only one Canadian team reached the second round of the playoffs last summer. The Vancouver Canucks owe it all to rising stars Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat and Thatcher Demko. Vancouver lost defenseman from their top four in Chris Tanev, but replaced him with a better player with Nate Schmidt. Schmidt was obtained for a little costing only a third round pick in 2022, because the Vegas Golden Knights needed to shave their payroll in order to welcome Alex Pietrangelo.

No Worries for the Canucks Top Four Defencemen

Schmidt, 29, scored 31 points in 59 regular season games (43 points pro-rated for a full season) and was Vegas’ most used player in the playoffs, averaging 23:03 per game. A foursome consisting of Hughes, Schmidt, Alex Edler and Tyler Myers will be efficient for the Canucks. Even though Tyler Toffoli was only obtained at the end of the season, his departure will hurt. They will try to replace him on the first line to the right of Pettersson and J. T. Miller with Nils Höglander or Jake Virtanen. Virtanen scored 18 goals in the regular season but had three meager points in 16 playoff games.

Who is the Most Underrated Player?

At center on the the center of the second trio, Bo Horvat, 25, was on his way to a 63-point season after scoring 61 points the previous year. He should once again be (well) surrounded by Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson.

Who is the Rookie to Watch?

The 2019 second round pick, left winger Nils Höglander, signed his contract last spring. He scored 11 points in seven games at the 2019 World Junior Championships with Sweden. While waiting for the NHL season to restart, he was loaned to the Rogle club, where he scored 14 points in 23 games.

Who Needs to Give More?

Young defenceman Olli Juolevi was drafted fifth overall in 2016, ahead of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy. Canucks management hopes that he will emerge after an encouraging winter in the American Hockey League. Juolevi has even had a playoff game under his belt, but he is still a long way from the level expected of the defencemen named above.

What is the Cornerstone of the Team?

Elias Pettersson, 22, remains the Canucks’ most important player. He scored 132 points in 139 games in his first two seasons and it feels like he hasn’t exploded yet.

2019-2020 Record: 36-27-6, 78 points

Regular Season Standings: 3rd in the Western Division

Playoffs Run: Lost in the second round

Departed Players: Jakob Markström, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Tyler Toffoli

Main Arrivals: Nate Schmidt, Braden Holtby, Nils Höglander


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