Sometime in early November I passed the one-year mark as an official host on Hockey Central, and I’m pleased to announce it has come with a perk: I am growing much more comfortable going at my fellow co-hosts for what I see as bad takes, as I think they now know me well enough to realize it isn’t personal. It’s kinda eggshells at first, you know? This growing comfort brings me to a conversation David Amber and I have had several times, in which he believes – as many do - that the Canadian Division is a battlefield of top-end teams.
I’m not at all aiming to go at my buddy here, but it is a question worth evaluating because consider: as we see these teams playing only each other all year, it’s going to be very hard to predict how they’d fare were they able to stray from their divisional confines. All we can do is establish expectations for each division and guess.
Amber’s contention is that it’s a good division top-to-bottom, that teams have improved in the off-season, that there’s a bunch of great goalies, and that you can argue it has the greatest collection of elite young talent with guys like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Elias Pettersson and way more. These are all true things by my estimation.
It’s because of those things I am pumped to watch these teams go head-to-head on repeat this upcoming season. It’ll be must-see TV, in no small part because of all the offensive ability, and … that I’m not sure any of the teams defend particularly well. We’ll talk about betting a bit more in a second, but for a little tidbit first, I say the “over.”
Focusing on those strengths, I can agree that it’s a good division – there’s talent everywhere and a high percentage of teams that aren’t outwardly bad. When the NHL set its “return to play” format to 24 teams this past season, six of seven Canadian teams qualified. My contention when I’ve said the overall division is “only OK,” is because I don’t see many legit Stanley Cup favourites there.
Here are today’s Stanley Cup odds from Coolbet. It’s important to remember that “odds that get people to bet” (which is a part of how gambling lines are set) is not a straight listing of actual Cup chances. But as loose guidelines for team ability go, this is a pretty fair indicator. Anyway, this is roughly the pre-season comparable chances for these teams to win the Cup this season. (Odds are listed as “bet $100 and your payout is that bet plus the listed number.”)
Those odds have one Canadian team, the Leafs, inside the top-10. Three Canadian teams are inside the top-15, with the odds for the other four appearing in the bottom-half of the NHL. It’s just gambling odds, but they don’t mean nothing.
Where they come from is recent history, and while a lot of Canadian teams qualified for the play-in round as I noted, only the Canucks managed to both qualify for the round of 16 and win a series.
Looking at the year ahead, here’s how my understanding of the divisions looks right now:
Canadian Division: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
“Pacific”: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minnesota, San Jose, and St. Louis.
“Central”: Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Nashville, and Tampa Bay.
Northeast: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, the Islanders, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington.
The organization of those divisions is based on recent reporting, though it hasn’t been voted on to confirm yet. But even if there are changes to the above, I can’t imagine they’d be too drastic. So, we’re close here. A quick scan of these divisions leaves me with this:
Pacific: Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis should run roughshod over this one, with maybe Minnesota (and San Jose?) being pains in the butt.
Central: Here we have legit Cup hopefuls in defending champ Tampa Bay and Carolina, with quality challengers in Dallas, Nashville and Columbus.
Northeast: This is the home of the Bruins and Penguins and Flyers and Capitals and Islanders, and feel free to add more “ands” depending on how you value the other teams.
So, if I had to rank the divisions in terms of most likely to produce our 2020-21 Stanley Cup champion, I think I may have the Canadian Division last.
Central: Tampa Bay
Northeast: Bruins and more
Conversely, if I had to rank the divisions by overall strength, I think I’d rearrange that significantly. By quality of depth (teams that will make playoffs and could compete for more):
Northeast (and it ain’t close)
I imagine most people would have the middle two as somewhat interchangeable.
There’s a lot of pre-season projecting and general subjectivity here, but as barstool sports talk goes, that’s how I’m heading into the season. The Canadian Division is good in that it’s deep with teams that would compete for and likely make the playoffs in previous years. It’s “just OK” in that I don’t see many threats to the league’s best teams.
So what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comment section below. How does the Canadian Division stack up against the other three overall, and in likelihood of producing a Cup champion?