2020-21 Canadian Division Preview

Photo: Terence Leung/Getty Images

While nothing is set in stone, it appears that the 2020-21 NHL season will be limited to intradivisional play and will feature a realignment due to the United States-Canada border closure, which has no timetable for being lifted. Three of the divisions are up in the air but it appears almost certain that one division will consist of the seven Canadian teams. With the season likely to get underway in January or early February, NoVa Caps begins their annual division previews with a look at the Canadian division.

Ottawa Senators

2019-20 Result: 25-34-12 (14th in the Eastern Conference)

2019-20 Leaders: F Brady Tkachuk (21 goals, 44 points), D Thomas Chabot (33 assists), G Anders Nilsson (.908 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: C Alex Galchenyuk, F Evgenii Dadonov, F Austin Watson, D Erik Gudbranson, D Josh Brown, G Matt Murray, C Tim Stuetzle, D Jake Sanderson

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Bobby Ryan, F Anthony Duclair, F Tyler Ennis, D Mark Borowiecki, D Ron Hainsey, F Mikkel Boedker, G Craig Anderson

2020-21 Outlook: After finishing in the bottom two in the NHL regular-season standings for a third straight season, the Senators made a lot of progress in the offseason to be competitive during their rebuild as they traded for Murray, who went 20-11-5 with an .899 save percentage, a 2.87 goals-against average, and a shutout with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, and used free agency to pick up Dadonov, who recorded 25 goals and 47 points in 69 games with the Florida Panthers.

They also had two selections in the top-five picks of the NHL Draft where they picked Stutzle, who recorded seven goals and 34 points with DHL’s Adler Mannheim last season, at No. 3 and Sanderson, who posted seven goals and 29 points in 47 games with the United States’ Under-18 team, at No. 5.

They also made some changes around the edges with the additions of Watson, Galchenyuk, and Gudbranson and subtractions of Ryan, Borowiecki, Boedker, and Duclair.

The future is looking bright in Ottawa and they absolutely improved this offseason, but the Senators need some time to grow before they enter contention.

Montreal Canadiens

2019-20 Result: 31-31-9 (12th in the Eastern Conference), lost to Philadelphia Flyers in Round One

2019-20 Leaders: F Tomas Tatar (22 goals, 39 assists, 61 points), C Philipp Danault (34 assists, 47 points), G Carey Price (.909 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: F Tyler Toffoli, G Jake Allen, D Joel Edmundson, F Josh Anderson

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Max Domi, F Dale Weise, G Keith Kinkaid

2020-21 Outlook: After upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens were one of the busiest teams in the offseason as they signed Toffoli, who scored 24 goals and 44 points in 68 games with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks last season, and Edmundson, who posted a 50.74% Corsi-for percentage and averaged 18:27 per game with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019-20, in free agency.

They also acquired Allen, who went 12-6-3 with a .927 save percentage, a 2.15 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 27 games with the St. Louis Blues, and Anderson, who posted a goal and four points in 26 regular-season games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, in separate trades.

Domi fit in well with Montreal in his two years there but Toffoli and Anderson should make up for the loss.

The Canadiens were one of the NHL’s best possession teams in the regular-season, indicating that they were better than their record. With some improvements and more rest for Price during the season, they could contend for the division title but it will not be easy.

Winnipeg Jets

2019-20 Result: 37-28-6 (ninth in the Western Conference), lost to Calgary Flames in Stanley Cup Qualifiers

2019-20 Leaders: F Kyle Connor (38 goals, 73 points), C Mark Scheifele (44 assists, 73 points), G Connor Hellebuyck (.922 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: C Paul Stastny, C Nate Thompson, C Dominic Toninato, D Derek Forbort, D Luca Sbisa

Key Offseason Subtractions: C Cody Eakin, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Anthony Bitetto, F Carl Dahlstrom

2020-21 Outlook: The Jets did not have such a busy offseason but finally landed the second-line center they needed when they acquired Stastny, who recorded 17 goals and 38 points in 71 regular-season games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season. They also beefed up their defense by re-signing Dylan DeMelo, who helped the team hold opponents to an average of just 1.91 goals-per-game and recorded a 52.94% Corsi-for percentage after being acquired from the Senators on February 18, and signing Forbort, who recorded a 49.83% Corsi-for percentage and a 51.57% expected goals-for percentage with the Kings and Flames last season. Other than that, they made a few small changes upfront.

This team has some very dangerous offensive weapons like Schiefele, Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Patrik Laine and have a chance as long as Hellebuyck’s in net, but the Canadian division is deep. Part of their chances depend on the Stanley Cup Playoff format for the upcoming season but it won’t be easy after the changes the Canadiens, Flames, and Toronto Maple Leafs have made this offseason.

Calgary Flames

2019-20 Result: 36-27-7 (eighth in the Western Conference), lost to Dallas Stars in Round 1

2019-20 Leaders: F Elias Lindholm (28 goals), F Johnny Gaudreau (40 assists), F Matthew Tkachuk (61 points), G Jacob Markstrom (.918 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: Markstrom, D Chris Tanev, F Josh Leivo, G Louis Domingue, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Dominik Simon

Key Offseason Subtractions: Forbort, G Cam Talbot, D T.J. Brodie, D Travis Hamonic, F Tobias Reider, C Mark Jankowski, D Michael Stone, F Alan Quine

2020-21 Outlook: After their second consecutive first-round exit, the Flames underwent some changes on defense as they watched Brodie, Hamonic, and Forbort walk but signed Tanev and in goal as they replaced Talbot with Markstrom. They made a couple of changes with their forward depth as well but nothing significant.

The Flames are hoping Juuso Valimaki, who missed last season with a torn ACL, and Oliver Kylington, who recorded two goals, seven points, and a 48.11% Corsi-for percentage in 48 games last season, can replace Hamonic and Forbort.

To be a contender, the Flames will need Gaudreau, who posted just 40 assists and 58 points in 70 games last season after recording 63 assists and 99 points in 82 games in 2018-19, and Monahan, who was held to 22 goals and 48 points last season after tallying 34 goals and 82 points in 78 games the previous season, to bounce back. They will also need to figure out whether they need to tinker with their bottom-six forward group after losing Jankowski and their average of 2.91 goals-per-game last season was 20th in the NHL.

This is a very strong team that should challenge for the division crown this season.

Vancouver Canucks

2019-20 Result: 36-27-6 (seventh in the Western Conference), lost to Golden Knights in Round 2

2019-20 Leaders: F J.T. Miller (27 goals, 45 assists, 72 points), C Elias Pettersson (27 goals), G Thatcher Demko (.905 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: G Braden Holtby, D Nate Schmidt, C Jayce Hawlerchyk

Key Offseason Subtractions: Markstrom, Tanev, Domingue, Leivo, Toffoli, D Troy Stetcher, D Oscar Fantenberg, F Tim Schaller

2020-21 Outlook: After a surprising run to the second round, the Canucks took a step back, losing their No. 1 goalie in Markstrom, a top defensive defenseman in Tanev, and a top-six forward in Toffoli who fit in beautifully with the team after being acquired from the Kings.

However, Demko showed in the postseason that he could be ready to take over for Markstrom as he posted a .985 save percentage in Games 5-7 against the Golden Knights after Markstrom suffered an injury. The Canucks signed Holtby to support him and provide a solid 1B option.

Vancouver stole Schmidt from the Golden Knights but still need a right-handed defenseman after losing Tanev. Forward Jake Virtanen, who scored 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games last season, is expected to replace Toffoli in the top-six but they could use another right-wing as Brandon Sutter has had an injury-plagued since getting acquired in 2015.

While this team has a couple of questions, there is still a lot of talent with Miller, Pettersson, Demko, center Bo Horvat, forward Brock Boeser, and defenseman Quinn Hughes. They should be able to grab a Stanley Cup Playoff spot but might want to bring in some reinforcements at right-wing and on defense before the real fun starts.

Toronto Maple Leafs

2019-20 Result: 36-25-9 (eighth in the Eastern Conference), lost to Columbus Blue Jackets in Stanley Cup Qualifiers

2019-20 Leaders: C Auston Matthews (47 goals, 80 points), F Mitch Marner (51 assists), G Fredrick Andersen (.909 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: Brodie, F Wayne Simmonds, F Jimmy Vesey, F Travis Boyd, F Joey Anderson, D Zach Bogosian, G Aaron Dell, C Joe Thornton

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Dmytro Timashov, D Tyson Barrie, D Cody Ceci, F Kasperi Kapanen, F Andreas Johnsson, F Kyle Clifford

2020-21 Outlook: After falling in the qualifying round, the Maple Leafs made some changes, signing Brodie and Bogosian to improve defensively after they allowed an average of 3.17 goals-per-game (tied for the sixth-highest in NHL with Anaheim Ducks). They also switched a few things up at forward, signing Simmonds and Vesey while dealing Kapanen and Johnsson in separate trades.

This has been a team near the top in offense in each of the past four years with Matthews, Marner, center John Tavares, and forward William Nylander but they have not had as much success keeping the puck out of their net. The Maple Leafs also lured Thornton, who scored seven goals and 31 points in 70 games during his final season with the San Jose Sharks last year.

The Maple Leafs are a dangerous team and one that should be even better from last season. They will likely compete for a top spot in the division.

Edmonton Oilers

2019-20 Result: 37-25-9 (fifth in the Western Conference), lost to Chicago Blackhawks in Stanley Cup Qualifiers

2019-20 Leaders: C Leon Draisaitl (43 goals, 67 assists, 110 points), C Connor McDavid (34 points, 97 points), G Mikko Koskinen (.917 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions: Quine, Barrie, F Dominik Kahun, F Jesse Puljujarvi, F Seth Griffith, C Kyle Turris

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Tomas Jurco, F Andreas Athanasiou, C Riley Sheahan, C Sam Gagner, D Matt Benning, C Markus Granlund, D Mike Green

2020-21 Outlook: After exceeding expectations in the regular season but not meeting them in the return-to-play format, the Oilers made a few but minor changes, bringing in Turris to center the third-line, which could make them feel more comfortable about playing McDavid and Draisaitl together at even-strength.

Kahun, who posted 12 goals and 31 points in 56 games with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins last season, and Puljujarvi, who recorded 24 goals and 53 points in 56 games with Liiga’s Kärpät, should help bring more scoring to a team who’s 3.14 goals-per-game average was at the league average but the offense was top-heavy with McDavid, Draisaitl, and center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins accounting for 99 (over 44%) of the Oilers’ 223 goals last season.

After losing defenseman Oscar Klefbom (shoulder surgery) for the entire 2020-21 season, they signed Barrie, who struggled in Toronto last season as he put up just five goals and a -7 rating despite recording a 53.27% Corsi-for percentage in 70 games, should help their power-play that already ranked first with a 29.5% efficiency last season. The Oilers ranked second with an 84.4% penalty-killing rate.

This team is talented but questions remain in goal after they did not upgrade their goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith, which combined for a .9123 five-on-five team save percentage last season (seventh-worst in NHL) and a league-worst .8554 during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That could put them at a disadvantage in a division full of top-notch NHL goalies.

Breakout Candidates

Virtanen — Canucks

After the Canucks lost Toffoli in free agency, the team has an opening at top-six right wing and the hope is that Virtanen can step right into that spot. The 24-year-old has seen his production increase each season he has been in the NHL and he set career-highs in goals, assists, and points last season. Virtanen added two goals and three assists in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games. As he is expected to get regular time next to Horvat, who posted 22 goals and 53 points in 69 games last season, and opportunity on a Canucks’ power play (that ranked fourth with a 24.2% efficiency) now, Virtanen could score at a 25-goal pace.

Kahun — Oilers

The 25-year-old has produced admirably in his first two career NHL seasons, posting 13 goals and 37 points in 82 games in 2018-19 and 12 goals and 31 points in 56 games last season. As the Oilers are desperate for scoring from their wingers, Kahun could very well get some time next to McDavid and/or Draisaitl as well as on the NHL’s top power-play this season. He could be a threat to be on pace to score around 20 goals this season.

Nick Suzuki — Canadiens

Acquired as part of the trade that sent forward Max Pacioretty to the Golden Knights in September 2018, Suzuki had an impressive freshman season in Montreal where he recorded 13 goals and 41 points in 71 regular-season games. He shined during the return-to-play where he recorded four goals and seven points in 10 games. Suzuki could get a crack at the No. 1 center job after the Canadiens dealt Domi. With the Canadiens’ additions of Toffoli and Anderson in the offseason, Suzuki will play with better linemates than he did this past season and could build upon last season’s impressive performance.

Nick Robertson — Maple Leafs

The 53rd overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft made the Maple Leafs’ return-to-play roster and scored a goal in four games in the team’s Stanley Cup Qualifier loss to the Blue Jackets. The 19-year-old recorded 55 goals and 86 points in 46 games with the OHL’s St. Peterborough Petes and is expected to a regular on the NHL roster this season. The Maple Leafs’ 3.39 goals-per-game average last season was third in the league and Robertson will likely get a chance to play with some talented players no matter where he is sloted in the lineup.

Standings Predictions

  1. Flames
  2. Maple Leafs
  3. Canadiens
  4. Canucks
  5. Oilers
  6. Jets
  7. Senators

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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