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Ranking the 2021 NHL divisions

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The 2021 NHL season is going to look a bit different, here’s how the divisions stack up.

Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The divisions for the shortened 2021 NHL season have been released, and they’re certainly interesting. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL was forced to group teams closer in proximity than they are usually, especially in what is the Canada division featuring, as you guessed it, all seven Canadian teams. So, with a little under a month to go before the season begins, let’s rank the new-look divisions.

East Division

Teams: PHI, NYR, NYI, NJ, PIT, WSH, BUF, BOS

It only figures that the Flyers would be in the most competitive division in hockey in this shortened season. The only two teams who didn’t qualify for the expanded playoffs earlier this season were the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. While it doesn’t look like that’s expected to change all that much, there’s still solid talent to be found on both teams.

The addition of Boston to the division just makes it all the more absurd adding them to the likes of Washington, Pittsburgh, and both New York teams. The Islanders have arguably the best coach in the league, and the Rangers have one of the best players in Artemi Panarin. Pittsburgh’s window appears to finally be closing, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still on this team, they’re going to give teams fits.

And let’s not forget, the Flyers are absolutely going to contend for a division win this season. They were one win away from the Conference Finals last season and have Carter Hart who is another year older, and one would assume another year better. The loss of Matt Niskanen hurts, but this team is still one of the best in their division, and possibly the league.

West Division

Teams: ANA, ARZ, COL, LA, MIN, SJS, STL, VGK

There are some duds in this division like Anaheim, San Jose, and LA, but the top three teams is what makes this division must-see-TV when the season begins. Vegas added Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis added Torey Krug to make up for it, and Colorado is still an offensive juggernaut. These three are going to be slugging it out all season long in what is going to feel like playoff hockey seemingly every meeting.

Although the likes of Arizona and Minnesota most likely won’t compete for playoff spots this season, if Arizona gets solid goaltending from both Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta again, they could be dangerous in a shortened season. Minnesota’s defense still looks nice with the likes of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba.

Hell, even a team like Anaheim could get lucky with a goalie like John Gibson in net. It’s unlikely for sure, but Gibson gives them a chance each and every night he plays.

Central Division

Teams: CAR, CHI, CBJ, DAL, DET, FLA, NSH, TBL

It feels insane to put the division with the defending Stanley Cup champions and the runner up second to last, and I debated on whether to actually do this or not for a good while, but the rest of the division is just not great. Outside of Tampa, Dallas, and Carolina, there’s really not a whole lot to watch for.

Nashville has some nice pieces but their window has closed and they’re trending downwards in a hurry. Florida could be solid if Sergei Bobrovsky gets his game together but if he doesn’t, they’re in for another mediocre season by the looks of it. Columbus is always a wild card kind of team, but I question whether they get the kind of goaltending they got last season. If they don’t, I think they’re in for a rough year.

And then there’s Chicago and Detroit ... there’s not too much else to say except they’re not good teams. Chicago of course still has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Alex Debrincat, but their defense and goaltending are huge question marks. As for the Red Wings, well, they’re the Red Wings. At least we get to see a sort of revival of the Hawks vs. Wings rivalry?

Canada Division

Teams: CGY, EDM, MTL, OTT, TOR, VAN, WIN

This division might be one of the more interesting ones to watch, despite being last in my rankings. If the Maple Leafs ever figure out how to play defense they could be legit title contenders in a heart beat with the amount of offensive talent on that team. Vancouver pushed Vegas to seven games and Quinn Hughes is looking like the real deal on the blue line. If Braden Holtby can return to form, this team could be a real threat.

Calgary is such a wild card but if Markstrom can be as good as he was last season in Vancouver they’ll be right there in contention. And the other Alberta team has the best player in hockey in Connor McDavid. Edmonton’s goaltending is such a mess though along with their defense that it’s basically up to McDavid and Leon Draisaitl yet again to carry them. They did add Tyson Barrie who will be looking to rebound, but he doesn’t exactly help the defensive issues, so we’ll see.

Montreal has a ton of young talent as we saw in our playoff matchup with them, and if Carey Price is back to form, they’re good enough to make some noise. They acquired Josh Anderson and signed him to a meaty contract extension, and signed Tyler Toffoli. Ottawa has Matt Murray in net looking to get back on track, and they made a nice signing in Evgeni Dadanov.