Assessing the Start in the Crowded Scotia North Division

EDMONTON, AB - JANUARY 28: T.J. Brodie #78, Zach Hyman #11, William Nylander #88 and John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on January 28, 2021 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, AB - JANUARY 28: T.J. Brodie #78, Zach Hyman #11, William Nylander #88 and John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on January 28, 2021 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

The NHL season is now in full stride, and division races are beginning to take shape. Although the season is still relatively new, the Scotia North Division already features a wide margin between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have enjoyed a strong start to the season, and they sit in first place in the division. Owners of a 7-2-0 record, the Leafs lead all NHL teams with 14 points in the standings. Right behind Toronto, and third overall in the league, is the Montreal Canadiens with a surprising 5-0-2 record.

Obviously, the Habs have two games in hand over the Leafs, which means that they could overtake Toronto if they are able to earn three out of the four available points in those games. Either way, 2021 is off to a tremendous start for both teams, and I would expect it to continue that way as both clubs boast tremendous talent that seems to be meshing well together.

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For Toronto, Mitch Marner leads the way with 13 points on the year, while he and Auston Matthews are tied for the team lead in goals with five. Three other players trail closely behind with at least seven points each to help power a strong Maple Leafs offense.

On the Canadiens’ side, newcomer Tyler Toffoli is leading the way with nine points. The team as a whole boasts a +13 goal differential, which leads the NHL and speaks to how impressive this club has been early in the season. Look for that to not be a fluke as the season progresses.

Checking in a pair of points behind the Canadiens are the Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks. The big difference here is the number of games played. The Jets sit at 5-2, which is a solid start, while the Canucks are 5-5.

Winnipeg, of course, made a blockbuster trade in the first month of the season, acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois in exchange for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. How well Dubois performs, and whether or not Connor Hellebuyck can produce another elite season, will largely determine Winnipeg’s success. I expect the Jets to be competitive and in the Playoff hunt in the North all year.

With ten games played, Vancouver has completed more contests than any other NHL team. The Canucks have started to correct early struggles by winning three straight games, but ten points in ten games puts the Canucks on the level of the LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils, which are the other teams that have earned one point per game in the standings.

There is no reason that the Jets and Canucks can’t both keep their postseason spots. The North Division, however, is deep, and a rough stretch of games or a poorly timed loss could spell trouble. There is still plenty of work to be done by both teams.

Where do we stand in the Scotia North Division as the NHL starts to hit its stride?

If the season ended today, the four teams mentioned above would qualify for the postseason. That means that the other three teams already have some work to do in order to reach the Playoffs.

The three teams on the outside looking in after two weeks are the Edmonton Oilers (3-6-0), Calgary Flames (2-3-1), and Ottawa Senators (1-6-1). What I find interesting about these three teams is that, at this moment, they strike me as entirely different from one another.

Edmonton is currently the team closest to occupying a top four position in the North Division standings, and it also is the one that should undoubtedly be in the middle of the Playoff picture, at least according to star power. The Oilers, however, have seemingly made underachieving an annual tradition, and it seems they are on pace to do so again in 2021.

Currently, Edmonton is only four points out of that fourth spot, and it has a game in hand over Vancouver, but I am not convinced that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will get their team to the playoffs. The disappointing start to the season is not surprising to me, but it does concern me, because it is exactly what I have come to expect from the Oilers.

James Neal (18)
James Neal #18 of the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

I mean, McDavid and Draisaitl are one and two in the NHL in points with 14 and 13, respectively, and somehow Edmonton has won a third of its games. Only three other players on the roster have more than three points on the year, so I don’t see anything changing here.

The Flames are unique, because they have only played six games. That gives Calgary at least one game in hand over each division opponent, and at least two over all but Montreal and Winnipeg. While the below average start to the year is not what the Flames would want, the team is certainly not in a bad position.

Playing Montreal and Winnipeg in the immediate future is not ideal for a Flames team that has dropped three straight games, but it does provide Calgary with an opportunity to gain ground sooner than later. I expect this team to at least hang around for the entirety of the season.

Finally, we find the Ottawa Senators right where we’d expect to find them: in last place. The Sens are a pitiful 1-6-1 with a -19 goal differential, which is by far the NHL’s worst mark. Ottawa is unique from the other two squads that are currently outside of the Playoff picture in the North, because it has no chance to right the ship.

Next. Plotlines to watch between Devils, Sabres. dark

Yes, the Senators added some talent in the offseason, but this division is far too crowded to allow Ottawa to make a run at the Playoffs. This start is probably a little extreme, and I’d guess the Senators will become more competitive, but last place is appropriate for this club in 2020-21. Six of the seven teams in the North will be battling for postseason spots as the season rages on. While clubs are starting to establish their positions in the standings, there is still a lot of hockey to be played.