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As we are six days away from Christmas today, this article will highlight the six challengers Edmonton could potentially be facing for supremacy in the 2021 season’s proposed All-Canadian Division. If the Canadian division comes to fruition this season, one could argue that it would be the toughest in the league, as nearly every Canadian team can be considered a playoff contender barring injury, with the exception of the Ottawa Senators.
For the purposes of this article, there will be a focus on the Oilers’ three contenders from each conference, predictions regarding which teams will make the postseason, and forecasting the Oilers’ chances and their placement within the division.
The 3 Eastern Conference Contenders
In terms of the Eastern Canadian teams, the consensus among most is that this side of the Canadian division clearly contains the weaker challengers. First, the discussion on the Senators will be quite brief, as it will be incredibly shocking if they finish anywhere above last in the division, despite having made some respectable moves during their offseason to aid in their lengthy rebuild.
The acquisitions of former Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Matt Murray and Evgenii Dadonov are major additions, along with multiple high-level draft picks, but there is still not nearly enough on this roster to improve last season’s second-worst team to any sort of playoff contention.
Next, the Montreal Canadiens, the team that surprised the hockey world with an upset against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round last season, contain a lineup once again heavily reliant on their goaltender, Carey Price. The biggest off-season addition general manager Marc Bergevin made this season, in my opinion, was the addition of new backup goaltender Jake Allen who will provide some much-needed relief for Price.
Furthermore, the signing of offensive winger Tyler Toffoli and the replacement of Max Domi with Josh Anderson will slightly improve the offensive core, however, similarly to Ottawa, the core of this team outside of Price and Shea Weber is simply lacking talent and is devoid of scoring ability.
Finally, the Toronto Maple Leafs boast the best lineup out of these eastern Canadian teams, with offensive firepower, elite goaltending, and a solid defensive core. Toronto will surely be one of the contenders to come out of the playoffs from this division, but whether they earn a playoff spot will be dependent on the performance of their depth.
The Leafs are incredibly top-heavy with Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly, and have made multiple off-season moves that should improve the roster, including T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian on defense. Thus far, in this core’s era of Leafs hockey, they have been unable to connect the pieces together to achieve any playoff success due to several factors, such as attitude and effort, coaching, and lack of depth offensively and on the back end.
The Oilers’ 3 Western Conference Competitors
This side of the Canadian division will be incredibly difficult to navigate for the Oilers, with the legitimate possibility that the top 4 teams in this division could be composed of the Western Conference teams. Comparing them to their cross-province rivals, the Flames last season were a team on the edge of the playoff race throughout the season before being eliminated in the First Round by the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Stars.
The Flames have only been able to achieve one playoff series victory in the past sixteen seasons since their last Stanley Cup Final run, and in my opinion, their team remains on a similar trajectory this season.
The addition of goaltender Jacob Markstrom fills a major void that has been present in the Flames roster for a number of years, while the replacement of Brodie with Chris Tanev may aid them on the defensive end. However, even with this improvement in goaltending, the Flames’ aging defensive core and under-performing depth will likely result in a first-round exit, if they secure a playoff berth.
Second, the Winnipeg Jets were significantly injury-ridden last season during the playoffs, resulting in a first-round elimination. Their forward group consists of a variety of players who each fill their roles exceptionally well, with an abundance of skill, with players such as Patrik Laine, Nikolai Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler.
The center depth acquisition of Paul Stastny solidifies the forward group, and the Jets’ goaltending is firmly set with Connor Hellebuyck. However, the defensive group, primarily on the right side, is significantly lacking, in large part due to Dustin Byfuglien’s large contract and departure a couple of years ago. The defense, and whether one of the young defensemen are able to take the next step towards providing another anchor on the back end, along with the potential Laine trade drama will have an impact on the Jets’ season.
Finally, the Vancouver Canucks outplayed their expectations with a playoff run to Game 7 of the Second Round, with much of their young, promising core returning for the upcoming season. The exit of Markstrom is not as distressing due to the presence of Thatcher Demko who displayed unbelievable ability against the Vegas Golden Knights and the acquisition of former Cup-winning goalie and veteran Braden Holtby.
The loss of Toffoli will negatively impact the Canucks forward group, but the likely continued development and improvement of their young forward group should atone for his departure. Finally, the replacement of Tanev with Nate Schmidt should be considered an upgrade due to his offensive prowess, veteran leadership, and ability to shoulder some of the load from young star Quinn Hughes.
The Oilers’ Outlook in the Canadian Division
Last season, Edmonton was firmly entrenched within the playoff race and was consistently in the hunt for the Pacific Division crown. However, the playoffs turned out to be a major disappointment for Oiler fans with a play-in round exit against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Oilers’ depth additions will be crucial with Kyle Turris filling a void at third-line center, along with Jesse Puljujarvi and Dominik Kahun potentially providing some much-needed offensive assistance and scoring depth to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Although the loss of Oscar Klefbom will be a major negative hindrance to the defense, the addition of Tyson Barrie should be a complete game-changer for this upcoming season.
These additions will surely bolster the Oilers’ already elite power-play, improve the squad’s overall offense, and shoulder some of the load from the elite players on the team. As seems to be the case on a yearly basis, the Oilers’ goaltending will again likely be the deciding factor in determining whether the team pushes into the upper echelon of the league and achieves some form of playoff success.
Final Predictions for the All-Canadian Division
Based on the description provided earlier, the 7th and 6th seeded teams within the division will be Ottawa and Montreal, respectively. Even with their rebuilding additions, Ottawa remains well behind the pack in terms of overall talent and experience compared to the other Canadian teams. It will be quite a surprise to many if the Sens get anywhere near a playoff spot for possibly a couple of seasons.
In terms of Montreal’s prediction for second to last in this division, the only path towards playoff contention would involve an absolutely heroic season-long performance by Price and significant development of their young, developing pieces. The addition of Allen at backup will be beneficial for Price’s season outlook, but with the number of years of reliance on the netminder and Weber’s injury history, it seems highly unlikely the Habs will finish higher than the bottom-two.
In fourth and fifth place, I believe, will be Calgary and Toronto, respectively. It seems that Toronto’s depth seems to continue to lag behind, especially with the lack of salary cap space, along with the inexperience of head coach Sheldon Keefe and rumors circulating around Andersen in goal. The reasoning behind placing them close to the playoffs or possibly making it in is due to the absolute talent present on the roster and electrifying potential that seems to always exist with this rendition of the franchise.
Viewing Calgary’s direction this season within this probable division, as outlined previously, the Flames seem to always be a team within the playoff mix but are lacking the ability to truly push for Stanley Cup contention. This season seems to have a similar feel to previous seasons, in which I would expect Calgary to finish fourth in the division with most of their core returning and the addition of an All-Star goalie in Markstrom.
Toronto as the predicted fifth-placed team within the division would be a longshot for the playoffs due to the likely competitive nature of this highly contested division, with very few easy victories, for any team that manages to place fifth in this division for that matter.
The predictions for the top three-seeded teams, forming the confirmed playoff spots for this division. are Vancouver in third, Edmonton in second, and Winnipeg placing first. Vancouver’s recent playoff performance in the bubble, the experience and growth of their young stars, along with their veteran additions and development of young prospects, should result in a replication of last season’s success during this upcoming 2021 season.
The Canucks have arguably the most well-rounded and up-and-coming lineup out of the Canadian clubs and with the playoff experience gained by their rising stars, this should result in a repeated playoff appearance, as long as Demko doesn’t experience a considerably precipitous drop-off from his overall play last season.
In second for the division, the Oilers’ crucial additions that fill their considerable voids on both ends of the ice, to go along with their presently constructed core including McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should result in another successful regular season.
Last season’s regular-season performance should only be enhanced by the presence of these additions unless some major injury occurs or Nugent-Hopkins’ performance remarkably dips following his best career season in 2019-20. The Oilers’ concerns should be a major focal point among fans regarding the playoffs, such as their typically subpar goaltending, not in the regular season.
Finally, I predict Winnipeg will be crowned champion of this one-time division due to their elite, well-versed forward group with supreme offensive ability and respectable special teams play, in addition to their outstanding Vezina Trophy-winning keeper. Despite their suboptimal defensive core, I expect the Jets’ defensemen to remain respectable and one of the younger d-men to take a leap towards becoming a quality, high-caliber contributor.
Despite these predictions, if the All-Canadian division does occur, it will be one of the more highly contested and volatile divisions in recent history. Furthermore, each of the Canadian teams has significant variables that will have a major impact in determining their place within this division, therefore, these predictions should be taken with a grain of salt.