In the shortened 2020-21 NHL season, games have not disappointed. Part of the uniqueness of this season has been the divisional re-alignment with the North Division consisting of all seven Canadian teams to avoid border travel.
Many initially thought it would be the worst division, with some good teams but none that are capable of hoisting the Stanley Cup. The first quarter of the season has not only proven otherwise, but it has proven to be the most exciting division in the NHL.
The NHL is more talented than ever, with players training and preparing for games more intensely. While the North Division might not give us the best teams or the most complete teams in the league, it’s hard to argue that its star power is overwhelming and arguably the best of any division.
On any given night, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are piling on the goals in highlight-reel fashion. Auston Matthews, whose instincts for finding open shots have been incredible, continues to find the back of the net with his league-leading 18 goals. Mitch Marner, Johnny Gaudreau, Quinn Hughes, the list of star power goes on.
Goals, Goals, Goals
The tale of the tape in the North is obvious. Teams have great offences but inferior defences, and as a result, games are high-scoring affairs. Four of the top ten teams in scoring are in the North. Conversely, the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks are among the worst three teams in the NHL in goals allowed, with the Senators allowing an average of 4.11 goals per game and the Canucks 3.52 goals per game.
A hockey purist might prefer good defence and goals that are earned, not simply given away by poor defensive coverage. However, fans should be happy with the typical games in the North Division. Granted, some of the division’s goaltenders are among the best in the NHL, like Carey Price and Connor Hellebuyck, but even defensemen like Hughes or Jeff Petry have made more of an offensive impact than they have had on defence.
What makes the North intriguing is the way the division is shaping up. Unlike the others, there doesn’t appear to be a super team in the North. The East Division has the Boston Bruins, the Central Division has the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the West Division has the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights, but it’s hard to point to one team up North and say they are head and shoulders better any other (many would argue it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it’s hard to say their roster is significantly more talented than the teams chasing them).
The North is unpredictable. It’s tough to know which team will win the division and which ones will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Maple Leafs might end up with the best record, but their playoff woes make it hard to believe in them playing for the Cup, having failed to advance in the last 17 seasons. All the teams slated to make the playoffs have some of the key tools to make a Stanley Cup run, but each has its weaknesses that make predicitions difficult.
The North Division Is Exciting but a Cup Win Is What Many Are Hoping For
The last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Since then, only five Canadian teams have played in the Stanley Cup Final; the last was the Canucks a decade ago. This season, a Canadian team will be guaranteed to reach the final four because of the rule changes, and Canada’s Stanley Cup drought could end.
Will the Maple Leafs win their first Cup Championship since 1967? Will the Canucks end years of heartbreak and finally win the Cup? Will the Canadiens win their 25th? It would be exciting to see a passionate fanbase finally get to hoist the Stanley Cup in Canada and reign supreme over the NHL for a year.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.