Due to the closure of the American/Canadian border for non-essential travel, the NHL’s seven Canadian teams spent the entire season playing among themselves. While other divisional foes played each other eight times each, the teams in the Scotia North Division encountered each other nine or ten times depending on the schedule. Serving as the closest thing to a charity division the league has seen since realignment, the North Division bracket is sure to stir up lots of bad blood in each playoff meeting. Even putting regional pride aside for those of us south of the border, these matchups should be high scoring affairs.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Escaping divisional play with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning was a boon for Toronto. In spite of all of the talent the Leafs possessed, they were never better than third best in their division, both in terms of regular season standings and playoff results. With the opportunity to beat up exclusively on flawed/bad teams and not play any actual Stanley Cup contenders for a full season, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and the rest of Toronto’s players thrived.
Matthews ran away with the Rocket Richard Trophy, and was the only player to score 40+ goals this season. The Maple Leafs won their first division title since the 1999-2000 campaign. The team shelled out draft picks for rental players at the trade deadline, with former Columbus Blue Jackets’ captain Nick Foligno being the splashiest of five acquisitions the team made. Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza played bit parts for the team as well, and they’ll both be looking to win championships for the first time in their illustrious careers.
As nice as it would be to see those two players earn rings, the Maple Leafs are the team no Rangers fan should want to see win. It’s not about Toronto’s obnoxious fan base, over the top amounts of media coverage, or any personal dislike one may have for the team. If the Maple Leafs fall short of the Stanley Cup, they’ll officially surpass the Rangers’ 54 year Stanley Cup drought and take on that mantle themselves. Toronto hasn’t won a championship since the Original Six era, and hopefully things stay that way for at least one more season.
Speaking of teams and players capitalizing on being in a charity division, Connor McDavid has been scoring at a pace unheard of since the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux pushing two points per game over full seasons. The Oilers captain took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point scorer for the third time in the last five seasons, and is all but assured to win his third Ted Lindsay award as well. With last year’s Art Ross and Ted Lindsay winner Leon Draisaitl riding shotgun, the Oilers have a more formidable forward duo than any other team in the NHL.
In spite of those two, the Oilers lost last summer’s qualifying round to a 12th seeded Chicago Blackhawks team that had no business beating them. The team has won a single playoff round in the McDavid/Draisaitl era. As great as Edmonton’s superstar duo is, the team’s atrocious depth around them has held them back for years. Only one forward aside from those two averaged more than 0.5 points per game, and a defense corps headlined by Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, and Adam Larsson isn’t built to win multiple playoff rounds.
After tensions with former star forward Patrik Laine reached a boiling point after one game this season, the Jets packaged the former second overall pick in 2016 to Columbus in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third overall selection of that same draft. While Laine’s struggles after the trade have been one of the early storylines of the season, it’s fair to say Dubois didn’t exactly light things up in Winnipeg either. An 8-12-20 stat line in 35 games is decent, but nothing to write home about.
Of the sixteen teams still alive in the chase for the Stanley Cup, the Jets are coming into the playoffs as the league’s coldest team. A seven game losing streak starting in mid April knocked them from a chance at a division title down to needing to stave off Montreal for the third seed. Three of those seven losses came against the Oilers by a 12-2 margin, bringing the season series record to 7-2-0 in games and 34-22 in goals in Edmonton’s favor. New York fans are used to seeing a Jets franchise on the wrong end of lopsided performances, so nothing new on that front.
Former Ranger Neal Pionk led the Jets in scoring from the blue line this year. In spite of his sub-par performance in New York, the former college free agent has emerged as a critical piece of Winnipeg’s defense corps since arriving in Manitoba. Pionk is only one of two former Rangers skating for a North Division team, and as bad as his time on Broadway was, it was still a better stint than the other player...
Les Habitants had an odd season to say the least. The team jumped out to a 7-1-2 start to this truncated COVID campaign, but then proceeded to go on a 2-4-2 stretch that included three losses against the lowly Ottawa Senators. Claude Julien’s squad had some of the best underlying metrics in the league after those 18 games and were being submarined by abysmal goaltending from the $10.5 million per year until the eventual heat death of the universe man himself, Carey Price.
In spite of that, the Canadiens fired Julien in the hopes of getting the team back on the winning path. That didn’t happen, as the team actually had a lower points percentage under interim head coach Dominique Ducharme than they did prior to Julien’s dismissal. Fortunately for Les Habitants, they enjoyed this season as members of the charity division and still snuck into the playoffs in spite of finishing below two non-playoff teams in the league wide standings.
In their search for rental additions ahead of the stretch run, the Canadiens made the same mistake the Rangers did five seasons ago: Giving up draft picks for the ghost of Eric Staal. Staal has busted harder in Montreal than he did on Broadway heading into the postseason. After scoring an overtime winner in his debut with the team, Staal only tallied one goal and one assist over the final 21 games of the season. The 3-3-6 stat line he recorded in 20 games with the Blueshirts looks superb in comparison to his latest performance.
Even if Rangers fans don’t explicitly dislike any of these four North Division teams, it’s pretty clear who they wouldn’t want to see bring home the Stanley Cup. Keeping Canada’s championship drought alive would be funny as it always is, but one of these four teams is guaranteed to make the league semi-finals. Hopefully it isn’t Toronto.
Who would you like to see emerge from the Scotia North Division playoff bracket?
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Toronto Maple Leafs