When quizzed on the prospect of facing the recently traded Nate Schmidt several times this upcoming season as a divisional rival, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley gave an interesting answer.
Golden Knights owner Bill Foley to @BrianBlessing on Vegas Hockey Hotline on facing Nate Schmidt/Canucks: "Yeah, but they're going to be in the Canadian division."
— David Schoen (@DavidSchoenLVRJ) October 14, 2020
“Yeah, but they’re going to be in the Canadian division.”
Well, alrighty then!
While this is far from official confirmation, it does imply that the NHL and its Board of Governors has at least been considering the notion of an All-Canadian Division for the 2020/21 season, and, truthfully, it makes a ton of sense.
With pandemic-related border restrictions unlikely to be lifted in the coming months, it would be far more practical — not to mention safer — to have the Canadian teams stay in Canada and rarely, if ever, travel below the 49th parallel. Travel might be a nightmare, but that can easily be mitigated by creative, series-based scheduling.
Beyond the pragmatics, it’s also true that such a setup would be just plain exciting, though perhaps fans of the Vancouver Canucks should be careful what they wish for.
Over the past three seasons, no Canadian team has a worse record against other Canadian teams than the Vancouver Canucks, and they didn’t have a winning record against a single Canadian team in 2019/20. Does that mean the Canucks are destined for a spot in the cellar of the All-Canadian Division?
In order to figure out where exactly the Canucks might rank in the (still theoretical) All-Canadian Division, we’ll have to take a deeper dive into how they stack up against the pack.
|Record v. Canucks||3-1-0||2-1-2||2-1-0|
Notable Departures: TJ Brodie, Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, Travis Hamonic, Tobias Reider, Michael Stone, Cam Talbot
Notable Additions: Jacob Markstrom, Alex Petrovic, Chris Tanev
Year after year, the Canucks seem to be more-or-less evenly matched with the Flames, and last season was no exception. Any potential playoff series between them was drawn up as a dead heat, but then the Flames were eliminated before it could happen.
In 2021, however, it’s a brand-new ballgame, and yet, oddly familiar. Calgary has added Vancouver mainstays Markstrom and Tanev to the mix, which should instantly improve their defensive game, even with the departures of Brodie and Hamonic. Whether that will be enough to keep pace with the younger, faster, and more talented Canucks remains to be seen. The core seems stagnant in Calgary, and the arrival of two 30-year-olds is unlikely to change that.
Better than the Canucks?: Again, it’s too close to call. We will say this, however: if the Flames are better than the Canucks in 2021, that’ll be the last time for a good long while.
|Record v. Canucks||2-2-0||2-2-0||2-2-0|
Notable Departures: Andreas Athanasiou, Matt Benning, Markus Granlund, Mike Green, Brandon Manning, Riley Sheahan
Notable Additions: Tyson Barrie, Anton Forsberg, Jesse Puljujarvi (returning), Kyle Turris
Another offseason, and another swing-and-a-miss for the Oilers in terms of surrounding Connor McDavid with anything resembling a supporting cast. Sure, Barrie and Turris are smart pickups on bargain contracts, and the return of Puljujarvi could be fun, but Edmonton is still largely the same team that has disappointed for several seasons in a row.
Most egregious of GM Ken Holland’s missteps is a continual inability to address the Oilers’ crease. After missing out on Markstrom, the Oilers instead re-signed the 38-year-old Mike Smith, and, as the kids say, that ain’t it.
Better than the Canucks?: Despite all that negativity, the Oilers are still fairly likely to have a better regular season record than the Canucks in 2021. They did last season, and they’ve still got McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s broad backs upon which to carry the rest of the roster. In this regard, they might be considered “better” than the Canucks, but we’d still put money on Vancouver if it came down to a playoff series.
|Record v. Canucks||2-0-0||2-0-0||1-0-1|
Notable Departures: Max Domi, Christian Folin, Keith Kinkaid, Dale Weise
Notable Additions: Jake Allen, Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli
GM Marc Bergevin raised more eyebrows than barbells this offseason when he traded for and then exorbitantly extended the trio of Edmundson, Allen, and Anderson. He redeemed himself slightly with the Toffoli signing, much to the Vancouver fanbase’s chagrin, but that’s not enough to squeeze any more contending years out of Carey Price and Shea Weber.
With that said, the Canadiens are also a team on the rise. They’ve got NHL-present and NHL-ready talent at nearly every position, and while none of their youngsters have truly put it together in the big leagues quite yet, one gets the feeling that a major step forward is imminent for some of them. Expect les Habs to be a threat in a few seasons, but not until they’ve safely returned to the Eastern Conference.
Better than the Canucks?: No, but they might steal a win or two from them and give the Canucks a taste of their own medicine. With Price backstopping a roster of neophytes, the Canadiens are not dissimilar to the Markstrom-led Canucks of a couple seasons ago.
|Record v. Canucks||1-1-0||0-1-1||1-1-0|
Notable Departures: Craig Anderson, Mikkel Boedker, Mark Borowiecki, Anthony Duclair, Ron Hainsey, Jayce Hawryluk, Bobby Ryan
Notable Additions: Josh Brown, Evgenii Dadonov, Erik Gudbranson, Matt Murray, Logan Shaw, Austin Watson
The Senators got bigger in the 2020 offseason, but did they get better? Sure, Murray is an expensive upgrade on Anderson — though Brock Boeser might feel differently — but the reasonably-priced arrival of Dadonov is largely mitigated by the uncontested loss of Duclair.
Ottawa is in the midst of a rebuild, and they have a lot of nice potential pieces. The question remains as to whether or not they’ll ever foot the bill of the next step in the process. Probably not while Eugene Melnyk still owns the team, and definitely not next season.
Better than the Canucks?: No. (Insert your favourite ‘hard no’ GIF here)
Toronto Maple Leafs
|Record v. Canucks||1-1-0||1-0-1||2-0-0|
Notable Departures: Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Kyle Clifford, Frederik Gauthier, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Evan Rodrigues
Notable Additions: Zach Bogosian, Travis Boyd, TJ Brodie, Aaron Dell, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Jimmy Vesey
On paper, the Leafs lost a bunch of scoring depth this offseason, but they countered by stocking up on character. In traditional hockey theory, this should be a smart move. Toronto is rolling with a core that has every reason to have lost confidence in itself, and the Leafs are now banking on strong personalities like Thornton, Bogosian, and Simmonds to right the ship.
That being said, there’s just no doubt that, analytically-speaking, the Maple Leafs have taken a major hit. Getting older and slower, and paying for the privilege to do so, is rarely a winning strategy — something Vancouver fans are happy to attest to. Toronto’s success in taking the next step in 2021 will be a wonderful examination of the eye test versus the computer stuff in real-time.
Better than the Canucks?: Maaaaybe. But then again, maybe not. In the theoretical All-Canadian Division, the Leafs are the Canucks’ true rivals for long-term top dog — if there were a long-term future for the ACD, that is.
Both teams are currently defined by their dominant top-sixes and questionable backends. The Leafs have the edge up front, but with the emergence of Quinn Hughes and addition of Schmidt the Canucks have probably taken the lead on defence. Both have starting goaltenders with question marks heading into 2021. The Leafs are more experienced, but the Canucks are younger and have more potential. Gumption is a saw-off.
In the end, this one’s a coin-toss — but, seriously, we’ve never been more excited to watch a coin-toss!
|Record v. Canucks||3-0-0||3-0-0||2-0-0|
Notable Departures: Anthony Bitetto, Carl Dahlstrom, Cody Eakin, Dmitry Kulikov, Logan Shaw, Nick Shore
Notable Additions: Derek Forbort, Paul Stastny, Nate Thompson
The Jets still haven’t fully recovered from last offseason, in which they lost Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot in one fell swoop. They’re still sporting talent in the top-six, and Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goaltenders in the league, but their blueline is held together with glue and string and coach Paul Maurice seems to have worn out his welcome.
Winnipeg made only token efforts to improve this offseason, reacquiring the past-his-prime Stastny and toying with the idea of trading Patrik Laine. They’ll compete on the strength of Hellebuyck and their scorers alone, but they’re no longer a true contender.
Better than the Canucks?: We’d really like to say no, but then again the Canucks haven’t beaten the Jets for three seasons running. The Jets look exactly like the sort of team that Vancouver should beat, but that still manages to give them trouble — which is going to get awful annoying if they’re really a divisional foe in 2021.
The Final Rank:
The Vancouver Canucks are absolutely in contention to take the All-Canadian Division Crown in 2021. They could also easily finish in fourth and have to battle for a wildcard slot, trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Calgary Flames, or one of the others in an upstart.
Third place seems like a safe enough bet, but we’re going to err on the side of optimism and officially predict the Canucks to finish second in the All-Canadian Division in 2021.
If, of course, it actually ends up being a thing.