By Ray Guarino | Follow me on Twitter @rayguarino
On December 21, 2020, the NHL announced the new divisional format for the upcoming 2020-21 season. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, there will be four divisions, three of which will have eight teams, with the remaining division consisting of the seven Canadian teams.
Also, this year will be a condensed 56-game schedule that includes only playing teams in your division. Regular season games get underway on January 13, 2021, with the Stanley Cup being presented mid-July before the 2021 Summer Olympics, which NBC is covering.
Below, I’ll make predictions for each division as well as individual awards.
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Washington Capitals
- Boston Bruins
- New York Islanders
- New York Rangers
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Buffalo Sabres
- New Jersey Devils
The Flyers, coming off of a very successful season, return a deep team both at forward and at defense. Add in 22-year-old goalie Carter Hart and look for the Flyers to win this very competitive division.
The Bruins come into this season with some question marks. They lost long-time captain Zdeno Chara and offensive spark-plug Torey Krug from their left-side defense. Those spots will largely be filled by unproven 2015 draftees Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, with veteran John Moore also in the mix.
The Bruins will also be dealing with the injury to David Pastrnak. The 22-year-old right-winger scored 48 goals, including 20 on the power-play in 70 games last year. After having off-season hip surgery, he is projected to be out until late February, which could have him missing upwards of 20 games to start the season. With no Krug, and at least for part of the season, no Pastrnak, the Bruins offense could really struggle out of the gate.
Flyers vs Islanders
Capitals vs Bruins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Dallas Stars
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Nashville Predators
- Florida Panthers
- Detroit Red Wings
- Chicago Blackhawks
The returning Stanley Cup champions get the advantage of playing in what looks to be the weakest division. They should have little trouble running away with it here.
Lightning vs Blue Jackets
Stars vs Hurricanes
- Colorado Avalanche
- St. Louis Blues
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Minnesota Wild
- Los Angeles Kings
- Anaheim Ducks
- San Jose Sharks
- Arizona Coyotes
All the Avalanche need to make it far in the playoffs is decent goaltending. Their defense is frighteningly good.
Avalanche vs Wild
Blues vs Knights
- Calgary Flames
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Winnipeg Jets
- Edmonton Oilers
- Montreal Canadiens
- Vancouver Canucks
- Ottawa Senators
This division will easily be the most fun. Any of the top six teams here could win this division.
Flames vs Oilers
Maple Leafs vs Jets
Another change this season is playoff seeding and match-ups. The first two rounds are interdivisional. The first-place team will play the fourth-place team, and the second and third-place teams will play each other. After that, the surviving teams will be seeded by regular-season points.
STANLEY CUP FINALS PREDICTION
Tampa Bay Lightning over the Colorado Avalanche
Hart: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Lady Byng: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Vezina: Anrdei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Calder: Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Norris: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Selke: Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Ross: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Rocket Richard: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Adams: Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche
Most points: Patrice Bergeron
Most goals: Brad Marchand
Most assists: Patrice Bergeron
Most improved: Nick Ritchie
Biggest disappointment: Ondrej Kase
Buckle up, folks; this season should be a wild ride. And a bit of advice, watch as many North Division games as you can.