2020-21 NHL Season Preview
Let’s look at what to watch for in the very unique 2021 NHL season and who should make the playoffs.
Should we even have a 2021 NHL season?
I don’t think so. I love hockey, but I wouldn’t mind waiting until the fall to watch again. This division only format is lame. I also don’t know how they can break even doing this. The US television deal is not that much. Canada’s is way larger, but even that isn’t enough to pay for everything. Most revenue is made through ticket sales, which isn’t going to happen. Even if they allow some fans, which the Stars said they would, how many can there even be indoors? Why would you even go? At least if you go to a football game, you’re outdoors. Bringing many people indoors, even wearing masks and socially distanced, sounds like a recipe for disaster. I wouldn’t go even if they were paying me. The fact that they sold the naming rights to their divisions pretty much confirmed they need to get creative to generate revenue. MassMutual NHL East Division just rolls off the tongue.
What’s up with those new divisions?
Some of the divisions don’t make sense. Dallas is more west than St. Louis and Minnesota but somehow ended up in the Central while those two are in the West. The one positive is it prevents having Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas in the same division. Perhaps that was their goal. But the West division looks awful. Other than Colorado and Vegas, none of those teams are very good. The East division is brutal. Canada is the biggest benefactor here. They only have seven teams and are assured of reaching the final four. Hockey is a sport with a very proud and deep history that usually tries to honor those traditions. These divisions, coupled with their names, looks like they just took a gigantic dump on tradition. I’m not interested in seeing teams play the same seven teams all season long, either.
Will the Tampa Bay Lightning repeat?
No way. Their magical season was last year and seemed like a one-off. They do have enough pieces to start a dynasty run, that doesn’t mean in a row, more like how the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings did it. But I don’t think the Lightning are that dynasty. It was such a struggle for this core to win one. I don’t think two is possible. Plus, they just lost their best player Nikita Kucherov for the whole season due to injury. They may not even make the playoffs.
Is there a Stanley Cup favorite?
This season will be so bizarre it’s hard to say. The Dallas Stars should have been the favorites. They took a huge step forward last season. But Ben Bishop is out until March, and Tyler Seguin is out until probably April. They should be able to make the playoffs without them. Hopefully, the team will then be healthy for their playoff run. But it all hinges on Seguin and who steps up in the interim.
Any other contenders?
That leaves the door open for a few teams. I wouldn’t count out the Vegas Golden Knights or Colorado Avalanche. Both have a great chance of winning. I love the Vancouver Canucks, but it seems too early for them. Plus, they’re changing goalies this season. The Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers could potentially get hot and win it too. They just need confidence from a first-round win. The Boston Bruins are unpredictable, but they could return to the finals. The New York Islanders are too much of a system team. They thrive if everything goes the way it should, but they cannot adapt when needed. The Philadelphia Flyers are a wild card. They could win it all, but they can’t repeat last season’s playoff performance.
Is this the year the Toronto Maple Leafs finally win a Stanley Cup series? (again, again, again)
I hope so. The all Canadian division might work out for them, or perhaps it won’t. Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver will all be pretty good. In fact, that’ll probably be your four playoff teams from that division, along with Toronto. Sorry, Winnipeg. I can see the Maple Leafs beating the Flames but not the other two based on how they played last season. But the Maple Leafs made some great pickups to improve their team. This might be the only chance we have to see Auston Matthews vs. Connor McDavid in the playoffs. Sign me up for that.
Any key player signings?
The Maple Leafs made the biggest moves, and I love their Wayne Simmonds signing. They need a Dustin Brown type of player to win a Stanley Cup. Simmonds fits that role perfectly, and he might end up being the most significant acquisition of the season. Joe Thornton to Toronto is interesting, especially since he just missed Patrick Marleau, who went back to San Jose again. Combining a player who has never won anything on a team comprised of players who have never won anything is a bit eye-popping. Perhaps this will oddly work out.
What about all those goalie changes?
It seems like we had a lot more prominent goalies moving around this offseason than usual. I was very interested to see how Corey Crawford to the Devils panned out, but he abruptly retired. Henrik Lundqvist to the Capitals was weird at this stage of his career, but then he had heart surgery. The Canucks signing Braden Holtby puzzles me. He wouldn’t go there if he weren’t going to be the starter. But the Canucks should be paving the way for Thatcher Demko to start. I suppose they could split the regular season, but you can’t do that in the playoffs. Matt Murray to the Senators is intriguing. He won’t have pressure in Ottawa, which should help. I hope he can regain his previous playing form.
Will the Buffalo Sabres do anything?
The Sabres snagged Taylor Hall. The latest in a long line of recent big signings. Only none of the others worked out. I don’t know why Hall chose to go there. Apparently, Hall really likes new coach Ralph Krueger. He should be trying to win a Stanley Cup. Jack Eichel’s progression should continue this season. Coming off his best season ever, I think he would have hit 100 points in a full season this year. But playing in a tough division, the Sabres will assuredly miss the playoffs again. Unless the Eichel Hall duo really takes off.
Who will be the most compelling team this season?
The Chicago Blackhawks because I’m impressed with what they did last season, especially blending the old guard with the new. Jonathan Toews out indefinitely is a significant blow, especially coming off his best season. But there’s still Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik, and Alex DeBrincat. Duncan Keith is still there to go along with the always underrated Olli Maatta. Malcolm Subban is presumably going to be the number goalie now. It didn’t work out that well in Vegas, though. That’s the biggest wildcard.
Any key players to watch?
Besides the regular top players, the two to keep an eye on the most are Carter Hart and Patrik Laine. No one will be under more pressure than Carter Hart. Things have gone pretty well so far in Philadelphia, but this will be a pivotal season for him. Luckily for him, there won’t be any fans around. It’s hard to imagine how a 2nd overall pick who’s had a great career could be in the spot Patrik Laine is. Trade rumors have been swirling, and Laine will be a restricted free agent after the season. Expectations are he won’t resign with the Jets. Either he’ll have his best season ever, or everything will affect him negatively.
Here’s a stab at selecting the four teams from each of the new divisions.
Scotia NHL North Division
Toronto Maple Leafs
Honda NHL West Division
Vegas Golden Knights
St. Louis Blues
Discover NHL Central Division
New York Islanders
Either Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins
MassMutual NHL East Division
Tampa Bay Lightning
Possibly the Florida Panthers instead of Chicago or Tampa Bay