As the National Hockey League and the Players’ Association discuss when, and how, the 2020-21 season will play out during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans in Canada are eagerly awaiting confirmation of an all-Canadian division.
Such a division is a necessity, given the current non-essential travel ban at the Canada-U.S. border, as well as coronavirus quarantine regulations.
So that means, in all likelihood, that the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks will be grouped together when the season begins in January or February.
Which team is most likely to come out on top? Here are my rankings.
7-Ottawa Senators, 2019-20 record: 25-34-12. Ottawa continues to rebuild their lineup and has a solid group of young, up-and-coming players such as Thomas Chabot and Brady Thachuk, but they are still a long ways off from challenging for the title of top team in the Great White North.
6-Vancouver Canucks, 2019-20 record: 36-27-6. Bring on the hate mail! Sorry Canucks fans, but despite all their great talent, losing Vezina Trophy candidate Jacob Markstrom hurts. Until new starting goalie Thatcher Demko proves that he can be a No. 1 goalie for an entire season I can’t rate this team any higher.
5-Montreal Canadiens, 2019-20 record: 31-31-9. Montreal is bound to be better this season, right? Carey Price is still one of the best goalies in the NHL and adding scoring punch by signing forwards Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli should mean a few more wins for the Habs.
4-Winnipeg Jets, 2019-20 record: 37-28-6. Yes, the Jets have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Connor Hellebuyck, but the Patrik Laine trade rumours and the health of Mark Sheifele and Bryan Little scare me a little bit and that’s why I have them in this spot.
3-Edmonton Oilers, 2019-20 record: 37-25-9. They have the best 1-2 punch in the league with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but Edmonton is only going to go as far as goalies Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith take them.
2-Calgary Flames, 2019-20 record: 36-27-7. The addition of Markstrom is huge from a talent standpoint, and it will be a confidence boost. If Markstrom turns in a stellar performance like he did last season and the Flames continue to get production from their go-to guys they will challenge for top spot.
1-Toronto Maple Leafs, 2019-20 record: 36-25-9. Aside from the Flames and Habs, the Leafs have made the most noise in addressing their weaknesses — leadership, grit and defence. Adding Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian to an already talented roster should push Toronto to the top of Canada’s hockey chart.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.