The North Division has taken its lumps — largely from critics south of the border — that somehow it is the weakest division.
I’m not sure how anyone comes to a conclusion which division is strongest or weakest, given they don’t play against each other.
Each division ended up with six teams that made the 24-team playoff bubble last year. None of the North teams went very far, so perhaps that’s the basis of the criticism. But that was last year. So much changed in the off-season.
To me, what’s more interesting is looking at how each of the traditional divisions are doing.
Consider the Atlantic, where Toronto, Montreal, Tampa, Florida, Boston are all heading toward the post-season.
The Metropolitan Division has Carolina, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Islanders heading to the post-season.
So the “Eastern Conference” has nine teams making the playoffs. We all know, only eight of them can make the playoffs next year. And of the also-rans, the Rangers and Senators will be a handful in the years to come.
It’s the West, with only seven teams heading to the post season, that will benefit from a return to the old alignment.
The traditional “Central Division” is holding up its end of the bargain: Winnipeg, Colorado and surprising Minnesota are more or less locks this year. Nashville-Dallas and St. Louis-Arizona still have to sort things out. All four of them will play in the Central next year (Arizona moves to make space in the Pacific for Seattle.)
Edmonton and Vegas are solid from the Pacific but that’s it.
As always, if you have a question, email me at email@example.com and I’ll answer it in the next Mailbag.
To the Power Rankings.
Breakaway Blog Power Rankings
North Division Only. (Who needs the other guys?)
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last week: 1). A perfect 3-0-0 week, putting space between themselves and everyone else. Kind of firing on all cylinders. The team seems to suggest to its opponent: “We’re going to win, you just get out the way and no one gets hurt.” I’m not saying they’re making it look easy. But they do appear to be winning with surgical precision. Three games against Montreal this week.
2. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 3). A 3-1-0 week and you get the feeling this team is salivating for the post-season. The Connor McDavid era has never had goaltending quite as solid as what Mike Smith is providing. Smith will be the most important 39-year-old in the post season. And let’s get behind a 100-point season for McDavid while we’re at it. Would be a remarkable achievement in a 56-games season. He’s at 87 points now heading into tonight. McDavid’s points-per-game average has risen each season since he averaged 1.07 as a rookie in 2015-16. It’s at 1.79 now. Four games against Vancouver this week. Poor Canucks.
3. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 7). Our week’s biggest riser. They faced a challenge and emerged with a 3-1-0 week. They’ve done it without two of their most important players, Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price. The problem is if they keep winning, they might pass Winnipeg and deny us all a Leafs-Habs first-round playoff. This week’s three-game showdown with Toronto will be pivotal to the final standings. They also get Ottawa.
4. Ottawa Senators. (LW: 6). The Senators aren’t going to make the playoffs, but they have made a statement with a 2-0-1 week. They had the third-best April (7-7-0) of any team in the North. They got out of the North Division basement. Sure, Vancouver has games in hand, but the Senators could ride a strong finish to this season into a big start next year. No team plays as hard as the Senators. They get Winnipeg twice and Montreal once this week.
5. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 4). We put the Winnipeg Jets here because they have to go somewhere and I want to respect they are a playoff team even if they’re not playing like one. An 0-3-0 week adds up to six losses in a row. Their season fell off the rails with injuries to Adam Lowry and Nicolaj Ehlers. At full strength, they’re a dangerous team with the best goalie in the division (Connor Hellebuyck). But they lack depth. A game against Calgary is sandwiched between two against Ottawa.
6. Calgary Flames (LW: 2). Our biggest dropper. They were getting close to Montreal, and lost head-to-head, part of a 1-2-0 week that leaves them only mathematically alive in the playoff race. This team is in for big changes. One against Winnipeg, one against Ottawa.
7. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 5). It feels like there’s a little black cloud over the Canucks this season. They could use some good news. Maybe that will come in the form of the league tapping them on the shoulder in a week’s time, telling them don’t bother to finish the season. Gotta get there first. It’s four in a row vs. the Oilers this week.
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