By Cole Parkinson
While the cool fall air isn’t for everyone, it does bring some joy to those who are ready for the hockey season to begin.
With NHL preseason games already underway and the regular season starting up next week, let’s take a look at the seven Canadian teams.
No matter if you are a Canucks fan or not, the departure of the Sedin twins will feel odd whenever you see Vancouver play.
Much like when Derek Jeter retired from baseball or Brett Farve retired from football, the Sedins were staple all-star NHL players that you could expect to see year after year.
Now with the rebuild certainly started in Vancouver, the Canucks have several players to be excited about, especially players that look like locks to be on this year’s NHL roster.
Brock Boeser is an absolute stud who can and will score upwards of 30 goals if he plays a full season, Bo Horvat is a player who looks like he can take another big step in his game and Troy Stetcher should see more minutes on the backend.
Where Vancouver fans are really excited though is with Elias Pettersson C/RW, Olli Juolevi D, Quinn Hughes D and Thatcher Demko G.
While Hughes is bound for NCAA action this year, the other three all have potential to make this year’s squad. Pettersson has looked good in the preseason and will likely get a good look this year on the big club, Juolevi also has a good shot at landing in the top six of the backend while Demko may be the answer the Canucks need in the blue paint, though it may not be shocking if they send him back to the AHL for a few months to start the year.
Either way, the Canucks may not be a playoff team this year in the stacked Pacific Division but they do have a good reason to be excited by the future.
That’s basically the biggest reason why people think Edmonton will turn it around this year and boy, it’s hard to bet against the best player in the league.
He is an absolute force but the team around him isn’t.
They need a top line winger to play with McDavid (they traded some guy named Taylor Hall) and their power play was horrendous finishing at the bottom of the league with a mere 14.8 per cent.
Their penalty kill wasn’t much better, they didn’t finish at the bottom, but they only killed off 76.7 per cent.
Like the Canucks, the Oilers have an uphill battle in the Pacific and I have a hard time seeing them as a playoff team as they didn’t do much with their roster in the offseason.
That being said, their centre core of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is pretty good but the rest of the team needs to have bounce-back years especially Cam Talbot if they want to contend for a playoff spot but my money is on them missing the cut.
The final Canadian Pacific Division team and, in my opinion, the best of the three.
While they don’t have anyone of McDavid’s ilk, they have a way better-rounded team that includes a great forward group and an incredibly solid defensive core.
Signing James Neal and trading for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin in the offseason for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox, the Flames will see a bit of a different lineup come opening night.
While the trade wasn’t viewed as a unanimous positive move from Flames fans, it may just be what the Flames need to get back into the playoffs.
Plus they see Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan return after great seasons last year.
I think you can expect to see them team up with Neal on the top line which should provide plenty of offence.
Goaltending will once again be the lynchpin of the Flames team as Mike Smith will be looked upon to be a steady presence in the crease.
If the team can stay healthy, I would expect Calgary to grab one of the wildcard spots out of the west.
Onto the best team in Canada, and really one of the best teams in the NHL— the Winnipeg Jets.
Mark Scheifele is a top 10 player in the league and may be one of the most underrated players in the game outside of Winnipeg and I think he will be absolute money again this year.
Joining him on that top line is Patrik Laine who will score 50 goals this year after hitting 44 last year while captain Blake Wheeler will be another weapon the Jets will rely on up front.
The team is mostly the same as last year and I think they are a playoff lockout of the Central Division but will no doubt battle with Nashville for the top position.
While the departure of Paul Stastny, who was acquired at last year’s trade deadline, maybe a negative on their offseason, it opens up a slot for a younger player to crack the lineup.
Overall, I think the Jets have the best shot at bringing the Stanley Cup back to Canada but playing in the stronger Western Conference, it’s far from a given.
It’s been a tire fire for the Senators, and there really is no better way to say it.
Take your pick for what’s worse —it could be the Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson wife feud, owner Eugene Melnyk opening his mouth at every turn, trading their franchise-best player to San Jose, not having a first round pick this year and the possibility of their original pick, which was traded to Colorado in the Matt Duchene deal, being a high pick, none of it looks good for the Sens.
The team on paper looks like a bottom feeder, especially in the top-heavy Atlantic Division, but there are no guarantees in hockey.
While I would put a large sum on Ottawa being out of a playoff spot come April, I think the team is eager to prove they’re better than most people think.
Brady Tkachuk looks like a great prospect for the Sens that will likely play quite a bit in the show this year and they have a few others in the system, namely Logan Brown and Colin White, that Sens fans can look forward to. Other than that though, I would expect Ottawa to be in a lengthy rebuild.
And speaking of rebuild, the Montreal Canadiens sure seem to be in one too.
Trading away their captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas sure seemed to signal the team was ready to turn over a new leaf but the problem is they still have Carey Price and Shea Weber signed to long-term, big money deals.
The team this year also lacks any real top one or two centremen, though after the trade to send Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi, they plan to use Domi as a centreman.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
They basically did the same thing last year with the trade to acquire Jonathan Drouin and how did that work out?
To top it all off, Weber isn’t expected back until December at the earliest after offseason knee surgery so I don’t expect the Habs to be a factor this year.
But… if there was one man on a team that I would look at to drag a bad team to the playoffs, it’s Carey Price.
We’ve seen him have absolutely phenomenal years where he makes the Habs look better than they are so that is always a possibility. But since they also play in the Atlantic Division with Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto and Florida, who are all playoff contenders, I don’t see it happening and I won’t lose any sleep over it.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Being a lifelong Leafs fan I figured I’d leave them till last.
And with that being said, I’ve waited for the Maple Leafs to be this good of a team for my entire life.
I’ve seen way more bad Toronto teams than good, so seeing hometown boy John Tavares sign was something all of Leafs Nation has been waiting for.
The funny thing was, I was in Vauxhall covering their Canada Day parade when it was announced so a big shout out to anybody who ignored the crazy guy in the Leafs hat celebrating on main street with a camera in his hand.
Lining up JT, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri down the middle is the best centre core I’ve ever seen in Toronto and it may be the best they’ve ever had.
For a team that has been around for 100 years, last year they broke a ton of team records including points with 105 and now they add a bonafide superstar in Tavares.
And I haven’t even mentioned Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Freddy Andersen or William Nylander. Needless to say, things in Toronto look a lot different than they did a few years ago.