Coming off a season that saw three of the seven Canadian teams make the playoffs, Canadians have lofty expectations this year as a Canadian team looks to hoist Lord Stanley for the first time since 1993. All seven Canadian teams will look to break the streak, but there are only a few who have a realistic shot of doing so. Here are my predictions for how I see each team performing with the season set to begin this week:
Ottawa Senators: Coming off a disastrous season that saw the team only muster up a dismal 29 wins, the Sens are looking to have a bounce back year and regain the cup contending run they had not too long ago. The team finished last in the league, and while they have a great core of young talent, there is not much to hope for this season. Realistically, I can’t see the team fairing much better than they did last year as they still have a very young team with little experience.
While there may not be anything to look forward to this season, the future is very bright for the team. The Sens have created a new team led by forward Brady Tkachuk and defenseman Thomas Chabot. Chabot just signed an extension with the team that will see the young star defenseman make 64 million over 8 years. In addition, the Sens locked up forward Colin White, and brought in solid supporting players like Connor Brown at forward and Nikita Zaitsev on defense. The team is building for the future.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are arguably one of the best teams in the league. They have one of the best groups of forwards, and they have some of the top players leading their team. However, that has been the narrative for the last couple seasons, yet the team cannot seem to find success in the post season. The team had 46 wins last season and finished third in the Atlantic division with 100 points. There is no doubt in my mind the team will play well this year and be one of the top teams in the NHL this season. Although, as mentioned, the regular season has not been the issue for the Leafs, its been the playoffs.
To rectify their post season sorrows, the Leafs tried to sure up their defense by adding Tyson Barrie, and depth pieces like Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur. But, to make these moves they had to let go of key pieces like Nazem Kadri and Ron Hainsey, players who were relied on. Not to mention, the Leafs couldn’t find a deal to keep Jake Gardiner, a player that was with the team for some time and was a center piece of their defensive unit.
In saying that, the Leafs will have similar success they did last season, but it remains to be seen if the transactions they made will be enough to lead them to post-season success.
Montreal Canadiens: Falling just short of the playoffs last year, the Canadiens surprised a lot of people last year as they were fare more successful than the quality of their team would suggest. Obviously, it is not a secret that success for the team is defined by the quality of play they receive from Carey Price. Price has been one of the best goalies in the league for awhile now, and the Canadiens will lean on him again as they push for a playoff spot.
Unlike other teams in their division, Montreal did not make any big moves this off-season. Head Coach Claude Julien and General Manager Marc Bergevin will be on the hot seat this season as fans are expecting the team to be a playoff contender this year. The only notable move the Canadiens made was delivering an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho. The star centerman signed the deal but it was quickly matched by Carolina, who had his rights as an RFA. You would think the Canadiens would have been more aggressive after missing out, but the team is confident their young stars will elevate their play this year.
With playmakers like Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, and Brendan Gallagher, and potential stars like Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens have potential to be an offensive force. Along with a solid top four of defensemen comprised of Shea Weber, Victor Mete, Jeff Petry, and Brett Kulak, the Canadiens have a solid team capable of contending for the playoffs.
Honestly, this season could go either way. The team definitely has the potential to make the playoffs, but if the team stumbles out of the gates and their young players don’t step up like expected, it could be a disastrous year for the Canadiens. If the latter does happen, expect a host of changes for the team, starting with management as Bergevin has had one foot out the door in Montreal for some time.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are coming off a fairly successful season that saw them make the playoffs and lose in a tough first round bout against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. The team posted 47 wins last season and finished second in the Central Division. Yet, the team has had a long offseason as there has been a lot of news surrounding the team.
The Jets took the entire offseason to sign forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, and with the team recently suspending Dustin Byfuglien to protect their cap as he ponders whether he will retire or not, the team has had a lot to handle this offseason. Although, what is not in question is the quality of roster the Jets have. Led by captain Blake Wheeler, the Jets have one of the most balanced teams right from their goalie to their forwards. Their top center Mark Scheifele posted 38 goals and 84 points last season and was leaned on as a leader in his assistant captain role. Veterans like Brian Little and Matthew Perreault, are solid supporting players that rally around the many stars on this team and make them a definite cup contender.
Although, with the departure of Jacob Trouba, there are some questions on defense for the team, especially if Byfuglien retires, it could be an issue. Not to mention, goalie Connor Hellebuyck is coming off a less than impressive year that saw him post a GAA of 2.90.
Despite this, I look for the Jets to be a contender in the West again this year, and for them to be a capable cup contender as they look to break Canada’s cup drought.
Calgary Flames: The Flames were the best Canadian team last year, as they won the Pacific division with 107 points. The Flames had 50 wins last season and finished with the best record in the Western Conference. However, like the two other Canadian teams to make the playoffs, they were also bounced in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche. The team wanted to make some moves to improve their roster, but GM Brad Treliving was quiet throughout the offseason.
The only move that caught some people’s attention was the trade for Milan Lucic. Lucic was traded in exchange for James Neal, who was an utter disappointment in Calgary last season as he was demoted to a bottom 6 role. Lucic was terrible in Edmonton for the majority of his tenure as it looked like he could never get comfortable with the pace of the game. Not really sure what Calgary was thinking in completing that trade, but we will see if Lucic can add anything as he approaches the end of his career.
Fortunately, the Flames have a tremendous roster that didn’t need to be changed much at all. Led by forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, along with last seasons Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano, the Flames have a roster than can compete with anyone. There was some concern that RFA Matthew Tkachuk might not sign before the season begun, but those worries were soon quashed as the star winger signed a three-year bridge deal worth an AAV of 7 million.
I believe the Flames will have tremendous success again this season, and with an extra year of experience under their belt, hopefully they understand what it takes to win in the playoffs.
Edmonton Oilers: There are many words to describe the past few seasons the Oilers have had, and none of the words are very flattering. It’s been a debacle for the team ever since losing to the Anaheim ducks back in the 2017 playoffs. The team has been so reliant on Connor McDavid, they forgot to surround the superstar with competent players. The Oilers had 35 wins last season, and without McDavid and Draisaitl, it’d be hard to tell if their roster was of NHL quality.
The Oilers had a fairly active offseason, beginning with the announcement of their new GM Ken Holland, who came over from the Red Wings where he was the GM from 1997 to the end of the 2019 season. Shortly after, Holland announced the signing of the Oilers new head coach, Dave Tippett. Tippett was formerly the coach of the Arizona Coyotes, and is known for a tough style of coaching that maximizes every bit of talent each player has. In terms of adding players, the Oilers brought in James Neal, Markus Granlund, and goaltender Mike Smith, players that will add to the team’s depth.
Frankly, I can’t see the Oilers fairing much better than they did last year as they failed to add any substantial pieces. Defenseman Evan Bouchard looks like a nice young player, and Kailer Yamamoto may provide some much-needed skill to a team that has very little other than their stars. Besides that, it’s a roster that has many holes and question marks, and it could be another season where the Oilers look to compete for the number 1 pick in the 2020 Entry Draft.
Vancouver Canucks: Probably the most interesting Canadian team in the league this season, and the most difficult to predict given the amount of changes they’ve made in the offseason. The Canucks had 35 wins last season, and didn’t really have many bright spots besides Elias Pettersson, and a few other Canucks. However, this season has the potential to be a good one if the team finds their footing early.
The Canucks added forwards JT Miller, Michael Ferland, and defenseman Tyler Myers. One player to watch will be young star defenseman Quinn Hughes who was drafted 7th overall in 2018 by the Canucks and played 5 games with the team last season after completing two years at the University of Michigan. The Canucks also signed Brock Boeser to a three-year deal, with an AAV of 5.875 million. Boeser is a very talented player but has been “handcuffed” to injuries that has caused him to miss games in the past.
With a solid defensive core led by the likes of Hughes, Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, and Jordie Benn, along with talented forwards like Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Boeser, and others, the Canucks could be a team to watch as they compete for a playoff spot.
With that, I think it is a stretch to say the Canucks will definitely make the playoffs, but I do believe they will be a better team than last year. The organization is still in a rebuild, but they could find success earlier than expected.
Canadian hockey fans have a lot to look forward to this year, and hopefully they can watch a Canadian team lift the Stanley Cup when its all said and done.
Sebastian Farkas is a fourth year honours politics student and Sports and Wellness Editor of the Athenaeum.