A Look at the Criticism Towards the NHL's North Division
The all-Canadian North Division has been a subject of ridicule and disrespect throughout this shortened NHL season.
I have been a diehard hockey fan since I was seven years old. I love the sport; I love how it operates, I love the chaos and unpredictability I see in every game, I love how literally anything is possible. This NHL season has been unconventional to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a number of changes all over the sports world, and the NHL was no different; having to pause before starting a modified Stanley Cup Playoffs in August, which resulted in the Stanley Cup being awarded in the end of September. In addition, a 56-game all divisional season started on January 13, 2021, and for this year only, conferences were eliminated, and the league featured four immensely regional divisions--North, Central, East, and West.
The North Division consists of all seven of the NHL's Canadian franchises: the Vancouver Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Winnipeg Jets, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators, and the Montréal Canadiens. That division is one of the reasons I was excited about this shortened season, but as I and other fans have seen, there has been a lot of disrespect put on the North/Canadian Division's name all season. I do tend to think that the only reason why this disrespect is out there is because the Toronto Maple Leafs are in first place, and the Leafs have had their many detractors. First, the division was mocked for their high-scoring games early in the season, with the sentiment that none of the division's goaltending was any good--even though Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) is the reigning Vezina winner. But now with the Leafs leading the division for pretty much the whole season, the sentiment now is, "They're only playing so well because of the division, none of the other teams are any good." Also, they say, "Well, it's easy when you play Ottawa all the time," even though Buffalo is the league's worst team by far.
But that's it, right? The Leafs have never played anybody good, right? The Jets and Oilers are terrible, right? I've decided to go through the previous nine seasons starting with 2011-12 to see who Canada's best team was. Why 2011-12? Because that was the season that the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became Jets 2.0, and it has been seven Canadian teams in the NHL ever since. So here goes.
2011-12: The Vancouver Canucks, by far, were not only the best Canadian team that season, but they were the best team overall. Going 51-22-9 (111 points), the Canucks (coming off falling one win short of the Stanley Cup during the previous year) won the Presidents' Trophy, but ended up ousted badly by the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Canucks won Game Four to avoid being the first Trophy winner to get swept in the first round--a fate that befell the Tampa Bay Lightning seven years later. Vancouver's 111 points were 19 more than the second highest total among Canadian teams, the Ottawa Senators' 92 points (OTT also made the playoffs).
2012-13: In a shortened 48-game season, the Montréal Canadiens' 29-14-5 record was the best among Canadian teams. Their 63 points was four more than the second highest total of 59, accumulated by the Canucks. Those two teams, the Maple Leafs, and the Senators all made the playoffs.
2013-14: For the second straight year, the Canadiens were Canada's best team, finishing at 46-28-8 and 100 points even. They were the only Canadian team to reach the playoffs that season, and went all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. The Canadiens finished 12 points higher than the second highest total, accumulated by the Senators (88).
2014-15: The Canadiens went 50-22-10 and racked up 110 points, leading Canadian clubs for the third straight season. Two Canadian teams reached the century mark in points that season; the Canucks finished with 101. The Senators and Jets had 99 each, and the Calgary Flames had 97. All five aforementioned teams made the playoffs.
2015-16: This was the season that saw none of the seven Canadian teams reach the playoffs. The best Canadian team that year was the Senators, who went 38-35-9 and racked up 86 points--the only Canadian team to finish with a winning record that season. The Canadiens had the second highest total with 82 points, the only other Canadian team to avoid a losing record.
2016-17: The Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers finished tied with the best record among Canadian teams--both teams went 47-26-9 and racked up 103 points. The Senators, who fell one win short or reaching that year's Stanley Cup Final, finished with 98 points, the Maple Leafs had 95, and the Flames had 94.
2017-18: The Jets were Canada's best team that season, accumulating a whopping 114 points and a record of 52-20-10. Their total was nine higher than the second highest total of 105, which belonged to the Maple Leafs. They were the only two Canadian clubs to make the playoffs, with the Jets reaching the Western Conference Final.
2018-19: For the first time in this stretch, the Flames were Canada's best team, going 50-25-7 and racking up 107 points. They finished seven points higher than the second highest total of 100, which belonged to the Maple Leafs, while the Jets racked up 99. All three teams made the playoffs, but none of them got past Round 1.
2019-20: The season was halted on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in some teams playing more games than others. The league ended up going by point percentage, and out of the Canadian teams, the Oilers were the best with a percentage of .585 (37-25-9; 83 points in 71 games). The Leafs' .579 percentage (36-25-9; 81 points in 70 games) was second. Six of the seven teams participated in the modified playoffs (only OTT missed out), though all of them had to play in the Qualifying Round and none of them got past Round 1 of the 16-team playoffs.
So there you have it. Nine years of evidence that Canada has very good clubs in the NHL. But even with that, the main question is still out there: will a Canadian team get past the third round of this year's playoffs? This season, the first two rounds are all divisional, which means whoever comes out of the North Division's playoffs will be facing an American-based club for the first time all season, as the Stanley Cup Semifinals will feature the winners of each division's playoffs. Even so, the existing assumption states that the Maple Leafs will reach the Final Four, but the Jets and Oilers are capable of being a problem for the Leafs, and the same can even be said about the Canadiens, who are expected to finish in fourth place in the North and face the Leafs in Round 1.
Even so, the assumptions that the North Division has no good teams and would be easily beaten by any of the East, Central, or West teams needs to stop. Hockey is an "anything can happen" sport, and based on that, as well as the past nine seasons, I think it's time to put some respect on the North Division.
Born on March 18, 1985. I am an avid fan of sports and wrestling, and I've been a fan of female villains since the age of eight. Also love movies--especially comedy and horror--and among my favorite TV shows are The Simpsons and Family Guy