It’s a weird time in hockey right now. Its December and we have yet to start the upcoming NHL season. What’s worse is that we don’t even know when the next one is going to start! What is (almost) certain though is that due to travel restrictions between Canada and the USA, there will be an all-Canadian division for the upcoming NHL season. Whether you love the idea or not, you can’t help but be intrigued by the idea of seeing all seven Canadian teams battle it out in the ultimate red and white showdown. Canadian fanbases have longed argued amongst each other about which of their teams is superior and it looks like we will finally get an answer to that this year. Anyway, let's get on with the rankings.
Mike Smith [Left] engaging in a fight with Cam Talbot [Right] during a regular season game between the Oilers and Flames.
7. Ottawa Senators
To no one’s surprise, the rebuilding Ottawa Senators come in as the worst Canadian team in the league (and one of the worst overall in the league). There’s not much more I can say about the Senators other than the fact that, they just suck. You know when Connor Brown finishes second in points at the end of the regular season that something has gone terribly wrong with the roster. Good news for Sens fans is that Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot have provided some silver lining, along with newly acquired goaltender Matt Murray and second-overall pick Tim Stutzle. But even if Matt Murray does become a part-time brick wall in the upcoming season, I don’t see how the Senators won’t finish in dead last in this division.
6. Montreal Canadiens
The Habs have caused a lot of attention in the hockey world these past few months, and to be fair there has been some good things going for them. Brian Burke even went so far to say that they are the best playoff-ready team of the 7 in this division. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to make all that of a difference.
To any Habs fans who wants to brag about knocking out the Pens in 4 games perhaps a trip down memory lane is required to the 2019-2020 regular season. Remember the one where the Habs managed to lose FOUR games to the 19-20 Detroit Red Wings. To give you some perspective, the Wings only got 17 wins last season and four of them came of the Habs. Not to mention they went on two 8-game losing streaks, giving all Habs fans a taste of what it was like supporting the Leafs during 14-15. Yes, Carey Price and Shea Weber were great during the playoffs, but people seem to forget that they had 3.5 months to rest up because of the pause. There is no way they’re ever going to get that kind of rest ever again. It’s also important to take into consideration the fact that the Penguins basically forgot how to play hockey during that one week. To their credit, I will say that they improved this offseason, by bringing in guys like Joel Edmundson and Josh Anderson but I don’t know how improving toughness is going to make up for the fact that the team can’t score or defend.
5. Winnipeg Jets
Oh, all-mighty Jets, how the tables have drastically turned in the past two years. A team that was once serious Stanley Cup Contenders not too long ago, barely made the playoffs in an expanded play-in round. But seriously, what the actual f*** happened??
Before we get onto the bad, lets start with the good. Connor Hellebuyck is an absolute beast of a goalie and was arguably the best defender on the Jets team last season. Along with Hellebuyck they got plenty of fire power up front in guys like Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine.
The biggest issue with this team comes of course on their blue line, which took a beating last season during free agency. Even with guys like Morrisey emerging as talent, the loss of Big Buff showed as the team gave up way too many shots against throughout the season. Take it from a Leafs fan, doesn’t matter how much fire power you got up front, a swiss-cheese D will never fly well. Their only hope is if they can manage to sneak into the playoffs and have Hellebuyck take care of the rest. Who knows? Crazier things have happened.
4. Edmonton Oilers
I’m going to be very honest; I think the Oilers suck as an organization and are one of biggest embarrassments in the league (Leafs are up there to don’t worry). They kind of remind me of that rich kid we all know who basically gets everything handed to them, but still manages to mess it all up. However, there are two reasons why the Oilers made it all the way up to 4th, and their names are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Their numbers and Hart trophies speak for themselves, and they have both shown there is no limit to how much two players can carry an entire team on their shoulders. The problem? As shown during the 2020 play-in round, having a well-rounded team is much more important to playoff success than having an a few all-stars. Now they’re not all that terrible (Nugent-Hopkins is decent after all) but the management has never invested in this thing called depth, and their defense might as well not exist. To make it even better, they resigned all-star goalie Mike Smith and brought on defensive legend Tyson Barrie. As a warning to all Oilers fans who may seem excited about having Tyson Barrie aboard, I promise you that the giveaways and the shooting accuracy will make you cry.
I don’t expect much from the Oilers, but honestly as a Leafs fan who am I to judge on teams who choke and burn.
3. Vancouver Canucks
I absolutely loved how the Canucks came back strong last season and made plenty of correct steps in the right direction. Elias Pettersson has emerged as a franchise center while Quinn Hughes came alive for the Canucks this year. Its also worth nothing they went the furthest out of all seven Canadian teams this year in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for them, they had a bit of a brutal offseason this year and lost a lot of key pieces, ironically to other Canadian teams. Loosing all-star goalie Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev to the Flames must burn, along with not having Stretcher and Toffoli around. Fortunately for them, Thatcher Demko was nothing short of brilliant during the 2020 playoffs and getting Nate Schmidt for next to nothing softens the blow of loosing Tanev. There’s definitely some uncertainty going for this team heading into next season, but Pettersen and Hughes' strong talent, along with their overall performance last year was enough for me to give them the third spot.
2. Calgary Flames
Calgary has been through many ups and down these last few years and have never been able to find their niche in the playoffs. This year could be the year where things turn around.
The biggest question for the Flames these last few years has been their presence between the pipes. Sadly, players like David Rittich, Cam Talbot and Mike Smith haven’t been able to make the cut for this team during the playoffs, but that all changes with Markstrom. Jacob Markstrom is a monster in net who came alive last year for the Canucks and finally gives Flames fans some hope as their most deserted position in the past few years finally gets some much-needed improvement. Along with their new goalie, the Flames have an overall strong team both up front and on the back end. With talented forwards like Tkachuk and Bennet, and the newly acquired Tanev on their blue line, the Flames can and will put up a strong fight against their fellow Canadians.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Coming in at the top spot is of course the Toronto Maple Leafs, and yes they are the team that I cheer for. There’s no doubt that this cursed franchise has been through hell and back the last 53 years, but they have a golden opportunity this year to make some magic happen.
"The Leafs are small and easy to play against", we literally brought in Simmonds, Bogosian and a dude whose nickname is Jumbo.
"But our defense sucks", enter TJ Brodie, Mikko Lehtonen and Travis Dermott (on the right-side).
Bias aside, I do genuinely think the Leafs have the best overall team of all Canadian teams. Kyle Dubas hit a home run this offseason by filling in all the holes that have been haunting the Leafs for the past few years. With the new added toughness, grit, size and finally a competent D partner for Mo, this team checks all the boxes for one that is competitive enough to make a run for Lord Stanley.
Having said all this, do I think the Leafs are going to finish in first, or even win the division? Hell no. Time and time again this team has disappointed me and every year it seems like they manage to find a new way to embarrass themselves and disappoint the fans. Don’t get me wrong, I love this team and I want them to win but anyone whose followed this team at all knows that they’ll figure out a way to mess it up, it’s just a matter of how. As a message to all Leafs fan, I sincerely advise all of you to keep your expectations low this upcoming season (as you always should). Don’t let the offseason moves give you hope until you see them make it past the first round of the playoffs.