While Canadian hockey fans will sadly miss the chance to watch their favourite teams in person this season, Canada’s border closure and travel and quarantine restrictions forced the league into a temporary division realignment that should excite hockey fans this side of the border. For this season and this season only, Canada’s seven NHL teams will only play against one another, thereby avoiding travel to the United States altogether. This seven-team all-Canadian division (branded by the league as the Scotiabank North Division when the NHL sold the naming rights to the divisions for this season to recoup some of the lost revenue caused by COVID-19 disruptions) allows those teams to remain in their home markets this year rather than operating temporarily out of the United States as the Toronto Raptors have done, which would have cost the league and its Canadian franchises millions of dollars, and also separated those players from their families for months. Apart from being a savvy cost-saving and season-saving measure by the NHL, the Canadian division will allow modern hockey fans to experience professional hockey as it was played in the Original Six years — with a small number of opponents and a bunch of games against each of them. For context, Montreal plays Toronto around four times in any given season. This season they will play each other ten times. Throughout the season, longstanding rivalries will be reinvigorated and new ones will emerge within the borders of the most hockey-crazy country on earth, and seven of the league’s most passionate fanbases. Competition should be at an all-time high as six out of the seven Canadian teams (sorry, Ottawa) are good enough to contend for the playoffs.
The North Division is blessed with arguably three of the top five players in the league, namely Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Each of these players is capable of lighting the lamp on any given shift, and will surely treat fans to some jaw-dropping, highlight-reel plays all season long. The division is also home to two of the top goaltenders in the league, Connor Hellebuyck and Carey Price of the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens, respectively. Both are former Vezina Trophy winners (awarded annually to the top goalie in the NHL), with Hellebuyck winning the trophy last season. There are also plenty of young potential stars in the making for fans to keep their eyes on this season. Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes should cement himself as one of the league’s top defensemen this season after a breakout season last year. Similarly, Montreal’s Nick Suzuki will be looking to build on his stellar performance in this past summer’s playoff bubble. Ottawa’s Tim Stützle, the third overall pick in this past year’s NHL draft — famously announced by Canadian icon Alex Trebek by way of a Jeopardy question — will be under the usual scrutiny that comes with being picked at the very top of the draft. Watching his game progress at the NHL level should be thoroughly entertaining.
I had been eagerly anticipating the first puck-drop for weeks, and the opening week of the season has not disappointed. So far, the Canadian division has seen more than its fair share of high-scoring games, overtime thrillers, and mesmerizing skill that is bound to continue all season long. Although the games look and sound a little different through the TV with no fans in the arena, I honestly cannot remember the last time I was as excited to be watching regular-season hockey as I was this past week. I cannot remember the last time Canadian hockey looked this good. It’s sure to be a memorable season.