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2020-21 North Division Preview

2020-21 North Division

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 North Division.

2020-21 North Division Preview

1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Oscar Elieff writes:

The division realignment has really benefitted the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they are no longer in the same division as the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, two of the top five teams in the league. They can take this unique opportunity to lead the 2020-21 North Division. With their elite top six and improved defence, the Leafs look like the favourites to lead the division.

Acquiring T.J. Brodie via free agency is a major addition to the teams formerly lacking blueline. This was the biggest help for the roster. While the Leafs bottom six got worse with the losses of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev are still able to provide sound depth for the Leafs.

The biggest question for the Leafs is whether or not Frederik Andersen can bounce back and if he can’t, can Jack Campbell be enough for the Leafs. This is potentially the best roster the Leafs have iced in recent memory, and in a uniquely easy division. This is their chance to claim the top spot.

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2. Montreal Canadiens

Oscar Elieff writes:

The Habs have been excellent at 5v5 the past few years. Their real downfall has been special teams. The addition of Tyler Toffoli should assist with that. The Canadiens have made both good and bad moves this off-season, but similar to the Leafs the change in the divisions will benefit them. They no longer have the Bruins and Lightning to contend with in the Atlantic division, and will only be competing with Toronto for the top spots this season.

The Canadiens have been excellent at 5v5 for the past few seasons, however, their special teams have held them back. If they are able to change up their systems, and hopefully see some help from newcomers like Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, they could actually begin to change that.

Carey Price is also always a factor and could provide good goaltending for the Canadiens. However, the Habs also now have Jake Allen as a legitimate backup goaltender for the 2020-21 season, so that should help take some of the stress off Price.

3. Calgary Flames

Doug Winkey writes:

This feels like a very promising top-nine. Steps forward from Mangiapane and Dube are very exciting if they happen as expected. Adding Valimaki to the blue line is also something fans should love. Add a quality starter like Markstrom and you have a team with a very high ceiling if everything comes together.
The Flames have a very well rounded roster, with some players having very high potential. The Flames, while they don’t seem to have the top end of other teams, could have their top line bounce back as well as maintaining their depth in every position.
The addition of Markstrom in the net is key, as it gives them options between Markstrom and Rittich. This is part of what makes Calgary such a strong contender in the 2020-21 North division.

4. Vancouver Canucks

Doug Winkey writes:

This team has some of the best skill players in the game, but there are concerns about depth. The bottom-six has to produce something and players like Virtanen has to step up. The defence also has a lack of serious talent outside of Schmidt and Hughes. There’s a lot of potential, but it’s not a complete roster.

Their top end of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller are among the best in the league, and Nate Schmidt and Quinn Hughes are excellent defencemen, but the roster falls off hard after that. Losing Markstrom in the net is also a huge blow to the team. If they can have their top-end makeup for the lack of depth, the Canucks will do alright.

5. Edmonton Oilers

Oscar Elieff writes:

The Oilers top end is excellent in terms of offence. In defence, however, everywhere is lacking. Not only do their defence struggle defensively, but even some of their best forwards are also a liability in their own end. Oilers games will definitely consist of lots of goals for both teams.

They do, however, have both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. These players can seemingly score at will, and thus the Oilers should never be counted out of any game. They also have players like Tyson Barrie, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, among others to be able to contribute offensively. This is the Oilers biggest strength.

The Oilers will be going into the 2020-21 season with a tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. This duo is a bit lacklustre, especially considering their defensive issues. They will need to have one of these two goalies to emerge at the forefront and be able to perform and save lots of high-quality chances. The Oilers will be a fun team to watch this season with the amount of offensive play that will occur.

6. Winnipeg Jets

Josh Young writes:

The Jets took a step back last season after two years of being one of the NHL’s best teams. They lost four quality defenceman and couldn’t recover. Winnipeg allowed the second-most shots on goal and the third most scoring chances last season. Thankfully, they had Connor Hellebuyck in the net. He faced the most scoring chances out of any goaltender but finished with an impressive .922 save percentage and won the Vezina Trophy. He will need to have a great season again because the Jets didn’t improve their defence all that much. They added Derek Forbort and re-signed Dylan DeMelo. The pairing that needs to have a bounceback season is that of Josh Morrissey and Tucker Poolman. They are Winnipeg’s top pairing, but the Jets were outshot by 50  when they were on the ice. 

The significant difference up at forward is Paul Stastny is back as a Jet to replace the injured Bryan Little as the second-line centre. Stastny is excellent defensively and is good when it comes to puck possession, but Statsny doesn’t drive noticeably more offence than Little, so there shouldn’t be too much of a jump. It shouldn’t matter; Winnipeg has one of the NHL’s best top-six groups. However, there are cracks in their forward foundation. Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic both want out of Winnipeg, which may negatively impact the team. 

With not many significant changes to one of the league’s worst defences and questions at forward, the Jets are sitting out of the playoff picture. 

7. Ottawa Senators

Josh Young writes:

Yes, the Senators are predicted to finish last in the 2020-21 North Division, but it should still be an exciting year for the team. They will be integrating many young players into the lineup, including Tim Stuetzle, Joshua Norris, Drake Batherson, and possibly Erik Brannstrom and Christian Wolanin

Offensively, Ottawa finished 22nd in goals for last year but should propel themselves into the teens with Stuetzle, Norris, Batherson, Evgenii Dadonov and Derek Stepan joining the team. A key for them will be fixing their power play, which was the worst in the league last year. 

Ottawa’s defence is where trouble begins-particularly on their right side. None of their right shot defenders have had a season with over 50 percent Corsi For. It’s hard to see the Senators improving much from allowing the NHL’s second-most goals last season with that right side. This signals that newly acquired goalie Matt Murray will have lots of work, but how good will he be? Murray’s play has been up and down over the past few years. 

 Ottawa’s offence should improve, but their defence will hold them back from climbing out of the division’s basement. On the bright side, there are many defencemen to be had in the upcoming draft. 

Main photo:
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