Ranking an All Canadian Division
Today the NHL big wigs will all be gathering to discuss how a January 1st season opener would look. A number of topics will be discussed which will include but not be limited to; bubble cities, the border issues, an All Canadian Division, and season length. Earlier I wrote a blog discussing a few thoughts on what an All Canadian Division would look like and some of the potential advantages of it.
Today I wanted to dig deeper and predict where I believe the Edmonton Oilers would finish in such a division. Here are my rankings for the TBA Name Division
7.) Ottawa Senators
The Senators are slowly rebuilding and while there are some very exciting young pieces, most recently joined by Tim Stuzle and Jake Sanderson, this is still a well below average team. The biggest weakness of this team remains their centre ice position simply being too inexperienced. Josh Norris, Logan Brown, and Colin White could all be solid top six options but combined they have played less than 200 games (155 of those played by White).
Adding Dadonov will bring some veteran leadership and consistency to the top six but unless Matt Murray has an unbelievable bounceback season and a Vezina worthy performance, I feel pretty confident placing the Senators here.
6.) Winnipeg Jets
Placing the Jets here makes the issues with an All Canadian Division abundantly clear. Every team from the Jets upward should be considered playoff contenders and lumping them all in one Division is going to result in some very frustrated fans.
My problem with the Jets is their defensive group. Last season the Jets were one of the worst teams in the league at giving up scoring chances but the brilliant Vezina worthy play of Connor Hellebuyck led the way. The D-core remains essentially the same this year and if Hellebuyck falters even a bit this season I think the Jets could be in trouble.
5.) Vancouver Canucks
Are the Canucks a better team than they were last season? Doubtful. Vancouver lost some solid pieces this off-season including Tyler Toffoli, Jacob Markstrom, and Chris Tanev. Had the Nucks not added Nate Schmidt I would have placed them below the Jets on this list. Like the Jets, the Canucks gave up a ton of chances last season but Markstrom stood tall in net. Holtby has been in decline and while Demko had an astounding playoff run, his regular season numbers are not that impressive. Lastly J.T. Miller was on a bit of a SH% heater and I expect him to cool off a bit as well.
The Canucks remain an exciting team to watch with the likes of Pettersson and Horvat down the middle and if Virtanen can take another step forward they could push ahead of my rankings here but for now this is where they will remain.
4.) Calgary Flames
The Flames are a curious team for me and this will be perceived by some as an attempt by me to rile their fanbase but I think the floor might soon be collapsing from under them. Jacob Markstorm is a very good goalie and should be expected to deliver solid numbers for Calgary throughout the season. The problem is Calgary received some world class goaltending from Talbot in the playoffs and that was still not enough.
I know Calgary fans like to point out Edmonton has a weak defense but their group last season allowed a total of 3 fewer shots, playing one less game than Edmonton and allowed one less goal (214 vs 215). Giordano is starting to show signs of age and Tanev is a downgrade on D from Brodie as well.
Mangiapane is a player on the rise and recent news suggests the Flames may move Lindholm to centre, improving the depth down the middle. Calgary needs some of it's other younger players such as Dube, Andersson, and Valimaki to take big steps forward this season.
3.) Edmonton Oilers
Last season, the Edmonton Oilers had the same issues as the Canucks, Jets, and Flames had; being among the worst in the league in scoring chances against and while the goaltending situation has not changed (much to my chagrin) I believe the improvements made will reduce goals against.
A bigger topic for another day but Tyson Barrie over Oscar Klefbom should be a fairly lateral move in terms of their impact at reducing 5 on 5 chances. Mikko Koskinen through the regular season last year showed he can be a solid, above average netminder and I place far more value in that sample size than the disappointing return to play in the playoffs after a four month break. The biggest factor will be how often Tippett goes back to the very poor Mike Smith.
The biggest positive for the Oilers is what Holland has done to give the team a real third line. Last season the Sheahan third line was the biggest culprit in providing no offense while also leaking goals at a high rate. New adds with Turris, Kahun, Ennis, and Puljujarvi may not be defensive juggernauts but that mix will certainly add depth scoring and spend far less time hemmed in their own end.
Question marks on D, how Caleb Jones will adjust to full time top 4 duties, and how bad Mike Smith will be keep me from placing the Oilers any higher on this list.
2.) Montreal Canadiens
Did the Canadiens lose the Domi for Josh Anderson trade? Most likely. Did they overpay Anderson and acquire an overpaid Jake Allen? For sure. With all that being said I think Montreal made some really solid moves this season and have a deeper roster than people give credit to.
Those who have read the Hotstove already know that I greatly appreciate what Brendan Gallagher does but there is much more to the roster than that. The wing depth that includes Tatar, Gallagher, Anderson, Drouin, Armia, and a great add in Toffoli make up a great top 9. Down the middle Danault is a consistent 40-50 point producer but keep a close eye on Suzuki or Kotkaniemi taking big steps forward and surpassing him on the depth chart.
The defensive group in Montreal is aging with the likes of Weber and Petry and troubles could arise if that group starts to slip but the adds up front should also help to relieve some burden. Lastly Carey Price might finally get a break with a solid backup and ensure he is always fresh and plays at the world class ability we all know he has.
1.) Toronto Maple Leafs
Do I enjoy making fun of the Maple Leafs? Of course I do; they make it so easy and frankly they deserve it. While I can sit here and poke fun at adding Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton and ask if Keefe is aware the year isn't 2008 I do believe Toronto to be the top team in an All Canadian Division.
Though neither are the players they used to be, Simmonds and Thornton will provide a different element to this high skill group and while many will roll their eyes, leadership in the locker room is a real thing and having guys who have seen it all like these two should be a blessing for the younger core.
With T.J. Brodie being the big add on a defensive core that needed help, Toronto will still look to outscore their problems but with one of the best top six groups in the league that shouldn't be too much of an ask. If Ilya Mikheyev can take a big step forward and replace some of the offense lost from the Johnsson and Kapanen trades it will go a long way to this team's success.
Like so many teams in this division, goaltending will be the sword that the Leafs live or die off of. At times Frederik Andersen looks like an All-Star while other teams he looks like a fringe backup. As long as Andersen can play at a .910 or better save percentage, the Leafs should remain the team to beat.
What say you fans? How would you rank an All Canadian Division?