Is it October already?
That's a question a few of you might have been asking yourselves yesterday. But it's no illusion — it is. And alongside pumpkins and trick or treating and falling leaves, the return of October in North America means the return of something in particular... hockey!
Another season of the NHL starts tonight, and to get you all pumped up (or even more pumped), we're going to break down what we're expecting to see from the seven Canadian teams over the next nine months. (Yes, the hockey season really is that long!)
Calgary Flames: On fire!
Last season the Flames skated to a beyond-expectations second-place finish in the entire league... only to then exit in below-expectations fashion in the first round of the playoffs to the Colorado Avalanche. (Fortunately for them, Tampa Bay's truly stunning first round tumble out of the playoffs took the worst headlines.) So who are the Calgary Flames? One of the very best teams in hockey? Or a pretty solid team full of defensive weaknesses?
This season will go a long way to answering that! The Flames made very few changes this summer, meaning that offensive stars Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm are all back. So is Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and captain Mark Giordano. This team can score easily and often. But can they keep the puck out of the net? Going further this year depends on it!
Toronto Maple Leafs: Will leaves finally stop falling?
Repeat after us: Boston Bruins in the first round. Three of Toronto's last four playoffs have opened this way, and the result has always been the same. A Boston victory in seven games. But last season's series was the closest of all and many feel that this will be the year Toronto finally punches through.
The good news? If they do, this super-talented team could really get on a run. The bad? If they don't, Toronto doesn't have a lot of extra money to spend on new options. In fact, four players — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander — are paid a full half of what the team is allowed to spend! Time for this young core to prove it was money well spent.
Winnipeg Jets: Stalling engines?
For the past few years, the Jets have been one of the league's elite. But this summer, they lost a slew of top defensemen, including Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, and perhaps also Dustin Byfuglien. Any team that has Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and Blake Wheeler is going to be a handful to play. And Connor Hellebuyck can be a game-changing goalie. But on paper, the Jets are not quite as deep a team as they were last season. Will that stall their rise? Or ignite everyone's determination?
Vancouver Canucks: On the rise
This team is going to the playoffs, bet on it. Their top forwards — Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat — are young and full of talent. They added vets J.T. Miller and Michael Ferland. They have a top rookie defense prospect (Quinn Hughes), and they poached Tyler Myers from Winnipeg, too.
Of all of the Canadian clubs, this is the one that we feel will improve the most over last season. And it will give them the chance to return some glory to a city that was the last Canadian club to play in the Stanley Cup final.
Montreal Canadiens: Approach with caution
Last year at this time, we wondered aloud about how tough the Canadiens would be to play. And we were right! Despite being a young, unproven hockey team, Montreal barely missed the playoffs. (Thank you, Coach Claude Julien!) This year, the team will be a little older, a little wiser, and still backed by the best in the biz, goalie Carey Price.
But. No one is going to take Montreal lightly this time around. And they play in the East — a division with three powerhouses (Tampa, Boston, Toronto) and a very improved Florida Panthers team. Montreal will have a real fight on their hands to be playoffs-bound in 2020.
Edmonton Oilers: More than McDavid?
We'd love to say, Yes. And it is true that teammate Leon Draisaitl is an absolute powerhouse. But for a team that has the best player in hockey, hands down, the Oilers still don't look ready to compete. We expect Captain Connor to make things interesting for a bit, but it is going to take at least another year or two before Edmonton gets back to the top of this list.
The better news? Their brand new GM Ken Holland spent years building exceptional teams in Detroit. If anyone can turn things around, it will be him.
Ottawa Senators: Build 'em up!
Sometimes, you just know that a team has an uphill climb ahead of them. That is the 2019-2020 Ottawa Senators. But on the bright side, this is the way it should be done.
Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk are super skilled players that could become the Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson of the future. And after receiving infusions of veterans and a new head coach (curiously almost all from the rival Toronto Maple Leafs), the message this season will be simple. Go play your heart out and learn the game. Because with an incredible 20 picks in the next two drafts, the Senators should be swimming in killer talent very soon.