Previewing the 2021 NHL North Division
This division has attracted probably the most excitement since the news of the realignment, thanks to the mouthwatering prospect of every single Canadian team playing against each other in the coming season.
The North, known for sponsorship reasons as the Scotia NHL North Division, will provide some of the biggest rivalries in hockey this year and is set to be one of the top-scoring divisions in the league – even with some of the best goaltenders on show. It is also expected to have one of the tightest races, with only really Ottawa not expected to challenge for the top spot.
As with the other divisions, I will be taking a look at the latest betting odds for the North Division, as well as the chances of each team in the 2020/21 regular season.
NHL North Division Odds for 2021
BetOnline goes along with the consensus that the Senators do not really have any chance of winning the North this season. But apart from Ottawa, this division looks wide open. Toronto may be the favorite but arguments can be made for all the others to win the division in my opinion. With national pride on the line, there should be some thrilling match ups as the teams will play each other nine or ten times before a further two rounds of purely Canadian playoff action.
North Division Teams With No Chance in 2021
Unlike the other three divisions, the North is home to only one team that doesn’t have any realistic chance of making the playoffs. Only the Detroit Red Wings posted a worse record last season than Ottawa and the good news is that the only way is up now. Rebuilding is the key word for the Senators – and it will be hoping that the two top-five top draft picks from 2020 can adapt to the NHL quickly.
All eyes will be on Tim Stuetzle in that regard but there is a general feeling that the Senators will return to winning ways soon – but it is unlikely to be this year when all the Canadian teams will be going head-to-head in the same division.
Outside Contenders for the Playoffs
With such a tight race for the North Division expected, it is a little difficult to break up the remaining six teams at all. But I feel that Vancouver and Winnipeg don’t have quite enough to win the title, even though both teams could well make it through to the final four and the playoffs.
Vancouver will really miss MVP goaltender Jakob Markstrom – and I’m not sure that the Braden Holtby/Thatcher Demko duo makes up for such a big loss to the team. The Canucks were already giving up the fourth most shots in the league with possibly the best goaltender to bail them out. Without that to fall back on I’m not sure that Vancouver can stay above the line.
Winnipeg is another team whose playoff hopes rely largely on its goaltender. Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy in 2019/20 and needs to be on top form once again for the Jets to do better than three other teams in the North. The Jets made the playoffs last season but will do well to repeat that feat – and should not be able to finish top of the pile.
Favorites in the 2021 North Division
The bookmakers have the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the North this year but there is so much talent in this division that I think there are at least four teams that could be in with a shout. Toronto has the shortest odds of all Canadian teams to win the Stanley Cup but it might not even win the North.
With so much depth throughout the roster, there is good reason for the belief in Toronto but that expectation could put to much pressure on the players. The Leafs finished third in the Atlantic last year and should definitely make the playoffs thanks to the addition of players like TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian. But every other team will be gunning for Toronto this year.
Calgary disappointed last year after finishing top of the Western Conference two seasons ago. But the Flames have shown they mean business again this year by bringing in goaltender Jakob Markstrom from Vancouver. If Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monohan can step up again, the Flames will be in the hunt for the title too.
Edmonton has two of the most exciting goal scorers in the NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl but the Oilers ultimately disappointed by bowing out to the Blackhawks in the playoffs. There is a feeling that this year should be better but a lot will depend on how Tyson Barrie gets on after his one season in Toronto.
As with all of the top four teams in the North, Montreal will feel as though it has a very good chance of making the playoffs – and possibly finishing first in this epic battle of Canadian hockey. The Josh Anderson/Max Domi trade probably just about balances out for the Habs and bringing in Jake Allen as a back up to goaltender Carey Price will really help him if he is to perform to the heights of last season.
My Prediction for the North Division – Edmonton Oilers
Pitching all seven Canadian teams against each other for the first time ever is a great marketing move by the NHL. There has not been a non-US Stanley Cup winner since 1993 – and Vancouver was the last team to even reach the finals back in 2011. With one Canadian team guaranteed to make the Stanley Cup Semifinals this season, there is a huge level of excitement among the country’s hockey fans.
That’s just one of the reasons why the North Division promises to be more open than the other three. Toronto is well fancied by the betting sites but I do think there is a good chance of one of at least three other teams coming through. It will be close but I’m going for the goals of McDavid and Draisaitl to help Edmonton win the North. But that’s no guarantee that the Oilers will end up being the Canadian team that goes the furthest in the playoffs.