Looking at 2021 NHL standings with normal divisional alignment

Florida Panthers' Jonathan Huberdeau (11) celebrates his game winning overtime goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at an NHL hockey game. (Karl B DeBlaker/AP)

This is meant to be a fun exercise to take out what we've seen in this most unusual NHL season and transpose it on to our more familiar divisional set up.

Nothing we see or do is "2019 normal" anymore so, in a way, this will give us some context as to how each team (and division) is doing relative to their usual direct competition.

But, of course, the context for these performances is so much different in 2021.

Teams are only playing within their realigned divisions so there's no full scope to be had. Some teams that share a division in normal times are still together competing now so there is something very direct to learn there. We can't know for sure how the teams that have split off into another division and are playing entirely different competition would line up, but we are far enough along here to notice any changes for the better or worse.

It is also a unique opportunity to draw some ideas on which regularly aligned divisions are the best, and which aren't.

With those caveats out of the way, here are what the normal divisional standings look like with 2021 results, and a few notes after each.


• By straight points, the Atlantic Division has the top three teams in the NHL so far, and by points percentage they account for four of the top six teams league-wide. Those four teams are spread across three divisions (Tampa and Florida share one) so, at the top at least, this division is showing the strongest in the temporary realignment.

• The most interesting development this season in regards to the Atlantic has to be the rise of the Florida Panthers. Real or mirage? The team's defensive play is vastly improved over last season and they've played the top teams in their new division very well, going 5-2-1 against Carolina, Tampa and Dallas. Backup goalie Chris Driedger has the better numbers, though Sergei Bobrovsky has been improved of late. If Tampa, Toronto and Boston are still going to be the big hitters when the Atlantic Division (hopefully) returns next season, then the Panthers could suddenly warp the aspirations of some of those rebuilding teams at the bottom.

• Even though Montreal has struggled of late, there is a clear break after them in this division.

• The rebuilding Sabres may have gotten a tough and unlucky draw in a really deep East Division this season, but there is not even one positive takeaway for them yet. If Buffalo can't even top the rebuilding Rangers or Devils in this year's realignment, how can we expect them to do any better in the Atlantic than the sixth to eighth place finishes they've had the past seven years?


• With six Metro teams all still together in this year's East Division, we get a better idea here of how some of them directly stack up. If you're a Capitals fan you have to feel comfortable, knowing that you'd still top the Metro in points even though you were missing some key players for stretches due to COVID-19 protocols. In fact, they're still here even though Vitek Vanacek has been their heavy-usage starter, with Ilya Samsonov returning to the crease on Sunday for the first time since Jan. 17 after he contracted the virus.

• The Hurricanes, who finished fourth in the Metro last season, may be taking a step and could be in the upper echelon of this division when it returns. By points percentage they rank second among all Metro teams and they've played the defending champion Lightning well in their games so far. But, after shutting out Tampa in their first two meetings, the Lightning did beat Carolina three times in a row last week. It is notable that the Canes have the best goal differential of this group.

• Changes are likely to come in Pittsburgh, if not to help them in the 2021 season then definitely to splash a new look this off-season. The Penguins got off to a horrible start, but are 6-3-0 in their past nine so there might be some life left. We'll see how the next month plays out, but after some early-season consternation it's no longer a given that the Pens are going to be stuck between the top and bottom tier in this division, or that the rebuilding teams will catch them within a year.


• This is the strangest division of the season so far because, by points, the teams that finished fourth, sixth and seventh in 2019-20 are the top three teams this season.

• The Winnipeg Jets's defence is just about as leaky as it was last season and we have to at least consider if that just translates better in a no-defence North Division than it would under normal conditions. Of course, the Hawks themselves aren't much better on the defensive side of the puck this year and the rise of Kevin Lankinen has helped them weather most of that for an impressive start of their own.

• Most impressive start to be cautious about? Minnesota. Kirill Kaprizov has completely changed the outlook for the franchise, and that they sit second in points percentage within a 2021 division that includes Vegas, St. Louis and Colorado is eye-opening. However, the Wild haven't played the Golden Knights or Blues at all yet and are 2-2 against Colorado. So, while it is a nice start, the Wild have gotten here with a 10-4-0 record against the three California teams.

• Most worrisome start is definitely Nashville, who are getting trounced in this year's realigned Central Division. They're turning into trade deadline sellers and 38-year-old Pekka Rinne is trying to hang on to the starting job on the last year of his contract. They might be a completely different team by the time normal alignment resumes. That they are the only team among this group with a negative goal differential is a reflection on how deep this group of teams is -- maybe the deepest in the league.

• Keep an eye on the Blues, who could be getting Vladimir Tarasenko back this week. They've been sort of mediocre with an even goal differential even though most of their games have come against the teams in the bottom half of this year's West Division. St. Louis lost four of seven to Arizona in their stretch of games and are 6-4-1 against the California teams. The Blues have only four home games in March and only four against non-California teams in the next 32 days. Almost the entirety of April will be against the best teams they'll face in their division this season so they have to start making up ground now.


• The top two teams in this division last season remain there in different conditions and, especially with the struggles Vancouver is having in 2021, we have to wonder if Vegas and Edmonton are clearly the two best Pacific teams -- with possibly a tier separating even them.

• Only three Pacific Division teams are above a .500 points percentage and hold a positive goal differential, which makes this look like the weakest grouping in the NHL. One of those three teams is Los Angeles, who are still firmly in a rebuild and making some nice strides this season, but time will tell how much staying power there is already.

• San Jose finished last in the Pacific in 2019-20 and -- by points anyway -- would be the worst team in this group today. And, yet, they have eight players contractually committed to through at least 2023-24 with a combined cap hit of $54.225 million. It's a bit of a mess.

• The Canucks' aren't in as big trouble with committed contracts, but they have big deals to get done with Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson this off-season. By points percentage, they would rank last among Pacific teams this season. Would they separate themselves from the likes of Anaheim and San Jose if they could play against them? It's reality check time for the Canucks, who need to look at themselves in the mirror and start thinking about how to position themselves for a return to this format.

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