Where Do They Stand?: 2020-21 Midseason Look at the NHL Divisions

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With the shortened 2020-21 NHL season reaching its midpoint, It’s a good time to take a look at the current standings on a division-by-division basis. This includes identifying the teams who will likely make the playoffs, teams that will likely miss the playoffs, biggest surprises relative to expectations, biggest disappointments relative to expectations, and a quick analysis.

Discover Central Division

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Contenders Likely to Make Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers

Teams Likely Missing Playoffs: Detroit Red Wings

Biggest Surprises: Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks

Biggest Disappointments: Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars

Quick Analysis:

  • The top three teams in the division, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Florida Panthers are overwhelmingly better than the rest of the teams in the division and are currently in a three-way dogfight for first place. All three have a point percentage north of .700 and a winning percentage over the last 10 games north of .700 as well. The old jokes about the “South-least” Division being a weak division can now be officially retired, as this threesome represents 60% of that now-defunct division.
  • No one is surprised to see Tampa Bay in the top three, as they are the defending Stanley Cup Champions from 2020 and won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2018-19.
  • The Florida Panthers are the most surprising team to see at the top of the Central as they qualified for the 2020 postseason only because the NHL expanded the number of teams that qualified. They are coached by Joel Quenneville, whose coaching resume includes coaching the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups beginning with the 2009-10 season.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are having a better than expected season, as they currently are tied for fourth place with a points percentage better than .500. This is in spite of the fact they have missed their Captain, Jonathan Toews, as well as Kirby Dach, one of their best young players.
  • The Blue Jackets are having a subpar season, with numerous overtime losses. The main story are the players that Head Coach John Tortorella benches during a game for poor play. First, it was Pierre-Luc DuBois who was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Patrik Laine and then it was Laine himself. The question has been raised if Tortorella, coach of Columbus since the 2015-16 season, has reached his expiration date. Although there are signs that they could be turning things around as, after two wins in a row, they are now tied for fourth place with the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Due to COVID-19 and inclement weather, the Dallas Stars have played in less games than the other teams of their division. They technically have “games in hand”, but would need to win most of those to earn a playoff berth. Still, their performance is disappointing for a defending conference champion.
  • The Nashville Predators are having a subpar season and have announced that nearly every player on the roster is available for trading.
  • The Detroit Red Wings, as expected, are in last place in the Central Division. Given that they were the worst team in the NHL during 2019-20, this is no surprise, as they continue their rebuild.

Mass Mutual East Division

Contenders Likely to Make Playoffs: New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins

Teams Likely Missing Playoffs: Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers

Biggest Surprises: No particular team

Biggest Disappointments: Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers

Quick Analysis:

  • For most of the 2020-21 season, the Mass Mutual East Division race could have been regarded as a five-team dogfight in which one pretty good team would miss out on the playoffs. The Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Flyers have been the five combatants for just four playoff slots. The fifth place team among them is possibly a better team than the fourth place team in any of the other three divisions. Three of those teams (the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins), have compiled a winning streak during their most recent 10-game stretch and have opened up some room between themselves and the other two expected contenders, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins compiled a six-game winning streak before losing to Boston on Tuesday night. They also lost star center Evgeni Malkin to injury in their loss against Boston. Goalie Casey DeSmith has performed very well during all his appearances since February 28, inclusive. The Penguins have an extremely favorable schedule for the second half of the season as 14 out of their remaining 27 games are against the two worst teams in their division (New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres).
  • The Washington Capitals compiled a seven-game winning streak, to include three games against the Philadelphia Flyers, in spite of missing both Tom Wilson and Lars Eller. Wilson was assessed a seven-game suspension as a result of a hit in during a loss to Boston that resulted in injuring an opposing player. Eller has missed games, due to both family issues and an injury. The absence of both players caused the Caps to use a less-than-optimal line configuration of 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
  • The New York Islanders compiled a nine-game winning streak before losing to Washington on Tuesday night. Last week, their captain Anders Lee tore his ACL and required surgery, and is now out for the season. The outlook for the Islanders for the remainder of the season looks bleaker, as a result. Goalie Semyon Varlamov, a former Capital, is having a very strong season for the Islanders and could be a potential contender for the Vezina Trophy.
  • The Boston Bruins have fallen to fourth place in the division, given they have split their last 10 games during a time in which the Penguins, Capitals, and Islanders had all run off winning streaks and widened their divisional lead. Boston’s performance so far could be considered disappointing as they were expected to lead the division, given they were the Presidents’ Trophy winners of 2019-20 and had a significantly better record than any of the former Metropolitan Division teams with whom they now share a division. Instead, they are fighting for the last playoff spot with the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers have fallen to fifth place and out of the playoff picture due to a mediocre stretch of play at a time where the Penguins, Capitals, and Islanders had all run off winning streaks and widened their divisional lead. During March, the Flyers did not perform well in head-to-head competition against their rivals, as they lost two out of three games to Pittsburgh and all three of their games against Washington. They beat the Sabres and split two with the Rangers, getting demolished by an unbelievable 9-0 margin in their second matchup. The Flyers’ play, especially recently, could be considered disappointing, given how well they ended the regular season of 2019-20, and now they have been reduced to trying to stay alive in the division race.
  • It’s been a rough season for the New York Rangers, as they’ve lost last year’s star rookie Igor Shestorkin to injury and Artemi Panarin had to take a leave of absence. In addition, Alexis Lefreniere, who the Rangers picked at first overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, has not developed into an instant NHL star and has scored only four goals. The Rangers, as a team, could also possibly be considered a disappointment relative to expectations but, as they are still rebuilding, they weren’t expected to make the playoffs this year, given the other strong contenders in the division. They recently beat the Flyers 9-0 and the Capitals 3-1.
  • The New Jersey Devils are second to last in the division but they were not expected to make the playoffs anyhow, given that they finished in last place in the Metropolitan Division in 2019-20.
  • The Buffalo Sabres were expected to finish at of near the bottom of the division but they have failed to even live up to even the lowest expectations set before the beginning of the season. The Sabres were hoping that the influx of talent onto the team, including Taylor Hall and Eric Staal, could help the team improve over the prior season. Instead, they have lost their last 11 games in succession, going 0-9-2 and fired their Head Coach, Ralph Krueger. They have an even worse winning percentage than the Ottawa Senators and the Detroit Red Wings, who were the worst NHL teams in 2019-20. To add to their troubles, their best player Jack Eichel, is out for the foreseeable future with a rib injury.

Honda West Division

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Contenders Likely to Make Playoffs: Vegas Golden Knights, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues

Teams Likely Missing Playoffs: Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes

Biggest Surprises: Minnesota Wild

Biggest Disappointments: Anaheim Ducks

Quick Analysis:

  • The Vegas Golden Knights currently lead the division by five points. They have run off a four-game winning streak which allowed them to stay ahead of the Minnesota Wild,  Colorado Avalanche, and St. Louis Blues, beating the Blues twice, opening up a decisive lead.
  • The Wild have performed very well this season and are solidly in playoff position, as opposed to 2020-21, where they snuck into the playoffs, thanks to extra teams being allowed in the playoffs. The Advanced Stats (Scoring Chances For Percentage, Expected Goals For Percentage) as seen in Natural Stat Trick, indicate their success is sustainable.  They have lost their last two games but are 6-4 over their last 10 games.
  • The Colorado Avalanche, after a slow start to the season due to COVID-19 and injuries, are now solidly in playoff position among teams of the Honda West Division. They are currently in second place, ahead of the Wild and Blues but are behind the Golden Knights.
  • The Blues have spent the season battling injuries to key players for long stretches of time including Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Bozak, Jaden Schwartz, Ivan Barbashev, and Colton Parayko. They lost Carl Gunnarsson for the season due to injury as well as the retirement of Alexander Steen prior to the start of the season. Several of the above players are starting to return to action. The team went on a five-game losing streak, first losing three games in overtime, followed by losing their last two in regulation. Their hold onto a playoff spot appeared to be in jeopardy. They may finally be starting to right things as they broke their losing streak by taking back-to-back games against the San Jose Sharks. Tarasenko and Schwartz have now returned to the lineup although they are still missing Colton Parayko.
  • The Arizona Coyotes have just moved up to fifth place and currently have a record at .500.
  • The Los Angeles Kings closed to within just three points behind the Blues before losing their next game and falling back in the standings.
  • For the San Jose Sharks, the 2020-21 season is a continuation of the 2019-20 season. It’s clear their contention window has ended for their current core of players. Patrick Marleau returned to the team after a three-year absence while Joe Thornton left in free agency before the season. Joe Pavelski left the team before the 2019-20 season. It is clearly time for a rebuild in San Jose.
  • The Anaheim Ducks are bringing up the rear in the Honda West Division, another team in need of a rebuild. Corey Perry, one of their longtime lineup stalwarts, left the team prior to the 2019-20 season and there are rumors that longtime captain Ryan Getzlaf could get traded. For several years, it has been said that if not for the stellar performance of goalie Jonathan Gibson, the Ducks would be a draft lottery team. In 2020-21, Gibson has a sub-.900 Save Percentage and the Ducks are likely a contender for the draft lottery.

Scotia North Division

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Contenders Likely to Make Playoffs: Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers

Teams Likely Missing Playoffs: Ottawa Senators

Biggest Surprises: No particular team

Biggest Disappointments: Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames

Quick Analysis:

  • At the present time, there are 11 NHL players with 15 or more goals, with seven of those players in the Scotia North Division. In other words, goal scoring is very high this season north of the border. Among the overall points leaders, five of the top six players in overall points play in the Scotia North Division. Observers have remarked that this division is “defense and goaltending optional” for 2020-21. The division has also been notable for firing coaches, as both the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames fired their Head Coach before the season’s midpoint.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs were likely pleased with the new division alignment prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, given that they did not have to contend with either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Boston Bruins. The general pre-season consensus was that Toronto would finish in first place by default. The Leafs currently reside in first place but are currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers in points but have games in hand.  Finishing first in the Scotia North Division is a tougher task for Toronto than anticipated. The Leafs were able to sweep recent games from the Edmonton Oilers but struggled against Winnipeg. Star Auston Matthews has 20 goals for already for Toronto. Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares also have been productive this season.
  • The Edmonton Oilers are once again benefitting from their one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as they battle it out with Winnipeg for second place and are also close to first place Toronto.
  • The Winnipeg Jets have three players with 12 or more goals: Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Kyle Connor, as they battle for second with the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Both the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames, who have generally hovered near the middle of the standing, both fired head coaches. The Canadiens replaced Claude Julien with David Ducharme while the Flames replaced Geoff Ward with Darryl Sutter.
  • The Vancouver Canucks, one of last season’s surprise teams, has mostly had a disappointing season but have played well during the last 10 games to return to contention for a playoff spot only two points behind Montreal. Brock Boeser now has 16 goals.
  • The Ottawa Senators are in last place, as expected since they are rebuilding.

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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4 Responses to Where Do They Stand?: 2020-21 Midseason Look at the NHL Divisions

  1. Pingback: Monday Caps Clips: A Rare Spot of Rest

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ralph Krueger, not what I think Buffalo fans don’t want to hear the name Todd Krygier (from game 2 1998 Eastern Finals : ) )

    • Diane Doyle says:

      I fixed Krueger’s first name. For some reason, I had the name Todd Krueger in mind even though Todd Krueger is a name from football not hockey.

  3. Pingback: Monday Caps Clips: A Rare Spot of Rest - Washington DC Sports Today

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