With the 2020-21 NHL season upon us, there’s no better time to put some predictions to paper so we can see how good my guesses end up being by its conclusion.
One Year Too Many
Regarding the 2020-21 campaign, I want to begin by saying that it’s weird to be forced to call it that. The entire thing is planned within 2021. Is there really a logical way to debate me on that? Well, it’s not up to me, so that’s that I suppose.
Now, on to the actual content at hand — the predictions.
Who Will Win Each Division?
The NHL was forced to be creative in planning the 2020-21 season. In that, it’s not like any that precede it. Those efforts included divisional re-alignment, in an effort to more efficiently map out the travel plans for each team.
As a Canadian, I’ll happily admit my bias for being more excited than I probably should be for the expected battles within the North Division. Part of me wonders if enough buzz can be generated for this to become a more normalized plan, moving forward.
That said, this realignment has placed teams that once rarely saw each other into a scenario that will force them to meet upwards of 10 times this season. Some rivalries will be renewed, while others are about to be created.
It will be a fun ride for fans, that’s for sure. And it should translate into a type of competition elevated beyond anything recently witnessed.
Here’s who I see reigning through each respective Division.
North Division: Toronto Maple Leafs
Central Division: Tampa Bay Lightning
East Division: Philadelphia Flyers
West Division: Vegas Golden Knights
And the Award Goes To…
Despite any differences in the structure of the schedule, there have yet to be any announcements on changes to the hardware that could end up in any potential winner’s trophy case by the end of the year. Whether they’re new to the league or a proven veteran, winning an NHL award is no small feat.
While there are a plethora of awards handed out annually, some are more suitable for predictions than others.
For instance, I can gauge who I think the best goalie will be, given how I foresee the season unfolding. However, it’s next to impossible to guess which athlete will display the greatest leadership off the ice or the general manager who will win the most trade deadline deals.
Let’s take a peek at who I predict will earn the spotlight this season.
Calder: Alexis Lafrenière
Vezina: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Hart: Auston Matthews
Norris: Victor Hedman
Art Ross: Connor McDavid
Selke: Auston Matthews
Lady Byng: Mitch Marner
Jack Adams: Rod Brind’Amour
Rocket Richard: Auston Matthews
Ted Lindsay: Sebastian Aho
Jennings: Tampa Bay Lightning
Not sure what the awards are for? Here’s an explanation of their history and relevance in today’s game.
The 2021 Stanley Cup Champion
If there was ever a year when it really could be anyone’s to take, why wouldn’t it be the 2020-21 campaign? After an adventurous journey that saw Tampa Bay capture the 2020 Stanley Cup, the 2021 Playoffs are sure to present their own twists to the otherwise traditional tournament.
Those who place 1st to 4th in each of the four divisions will be eligible to participate in the 16-team bracket-style tournament. So, obviously, these clubs are primarily focused on finding their way in first and foremost. From there, anything can happen.
The regular season will wrap up on May 8 and then the league will return to a 16-team, best-of-seven, four-round playoff format. Four teams from each division will qualify for the playoffs.
With that said, the now seemingly perennial favourites should never be overlooked. Teams like the Lightning, Bruins, Capitals, Blues, Avalanche, and Golden Knights. Nor should the clubs that utilized the offseason to their advantage, in making the smartest moves possible for their lineup.
This leads me to my pick, as this team finally looked inward to see what was missing from an otherwise powerful-looking roster on paper. Fixated on youth, they broke that barrier when they signed one of the oldest active players in today’s game. He also happens to be amongst the most accomplished of all-time, though.
50 Plus Years Later
The only thing Joe Thornton is missing is a Stanley Cup. And I’m predicting that he’ll be hoisting it with the Toronto Maple Leafs by the end of the 2020-21 campaign, as they achieve their first since 1967.
On that note, I don’t see Thornton as the pivotal piece in this storyline. Nor do I suspect newcomers like Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, or Zach Bogosian (to name a few) as being the sole difference makers, either.
However, I do think they all have a fit and that it lines up with what Toronto has lacked in recent years.
Toronto has some of the most prolific producers in this era of the game and most are still barely entering their prime. How can anyone bet against a squad lead by John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, and Jake Muzzin?
A question mark heading into the 2020-21 season, and an area that could create concern for Toronto, surrounds Frederik Andersen. As he enters his last year on his current team, they need him to be better than he was through 2019-20.
Andersen saw some of his worst stats last season. If the Maple Leafs hope to make a run, it starts and stops with the type of goaltending they can rely on. That said, if Andersen does struggle, there are others now in the system to pick up that slack.
Ultimately, I do think this team will figure it out and collectively get it done, for the first time in my life. Finally.