Canada, who ya’ got?
Want 6/7th of the country after your scalp?
Put together a ranking – top to bottom – of Canadian NHL clubs. So, with that in mind . . . here we go. And for the first time in many a year, the disgruntlement won’t be zinging out of Eastern Ontario. Central Quebec and Ontario though?
No. 1: CALGARY FLAMES
Call this The Alberta Toss-Up, ‘cause that’s just what it is. The Flames and Northern neighbour Oilers are neck-and-neck in most books for that top Canadian rung on the ladder. We’re going with the Flames thanks to depth, defence and netminding.
Adding Ottawa-area lad MacKenzie Weegar to the pot improves an already solid blueline that includes Noah Hanifan and zippy Rasmus Andersson.
General Manager Brad Treliving went from zero to hero in a matter of days this past summer. After losing Johnny Gaudreau (Columbus? Really Johnny?) then Matthew Tkachuk, Brad made out like he was on dad’s Dragon’s Den in acquiring Weegar, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri. That’s a pretty fair swap considering Treliving had a virtual pistol pointed at him.
Meantime, Vezina finalist Jacob Markstrom makes Calgary a lock for sporting the best goaltender in the north.
No. 2: EDMONTON OILERS
Kings and commoners.
Mountains and valleys.
The star-spangled Oilers carry two of the top five players in the game and one of its better power forwards, but there is a deep drop after you get past McDavid, Draisaitl and Kane.
Edmonton will still win more than its share but that theme of constantly being able to out-score the opposition will catch up to them (see: Colorado, playoffs, sweep).
Having ogled Toronto the past few years I can tell you Jack Campbell is a capable goaltender, nothing more. Is he an upgrade on Mike Smith? We’ll get back to you . . .
No. 3: VANCOUVER CANUCKS
When head coach Bruce Boudreau took over last season, the Canucks were not a detail-oriented team. Weeks later, yes they were.
Boudreau is proof that the right coach at the right time can make an enormous difference.
Personnel-wise, management retained star J.T. Miller and hauled in KHL sniper Andrei Kuzmenko then signing former Toronto Maple Leaf speedster Ilya Mikheyev.
The Canucks should be better with a full season under Boudreau.
No. 4: TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
An old friend once said to me, if you want to be a Maple Leafs’ fan you must be prepared to endure constant disappointment.
And so it goes.
Frankly, there are just too many ‘ifs’ surrounding this team this coming season. Number one on that list is if either Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov can consistently stop pucks (this corner’s betting on Samsonov, if it happens).
Gm Kyle Dubas is a likeable guy, seemingly. His work record is spotty at best. This summer Dubas did his best ‘old’ Pierre Dorion impression when he ‘bolstered’ the lineup by bringing in Adam Gaudette, Jordie Benn and Victor Mete. Sound familiar Ottawa Fan?
The future here looks grim.
No. 5: OTTAWA SENATORS
And on the other hand, we have Ottawa. It likely won’t happen this year – it could, of course – but while the Leafs are slipping the long-wallowing Senators are rising and could slide past Toronto.
Don’t start rubbing your hands together just yet Ottawa. Dorion hasn’t done much about that awful defence from the past few seasons. Jake Sanderson checks in, however, as we wrote last week, expecting a 20-year-old to change bad to good isn’t terribly smart.
Ticket sales have reportedly been brisker than in previous seasons. Understandably too. Ottawa could very well be Canada’s most entertaining squad.
No. 6: WINNIPEG JETS
Ottawa favourite Rick Bowness takes over as head coach. He might be the tonic for the Jets troubles. He might not.
Maybe slotting Winnipeg this low was inconsiderate. Looking up and down at the roster this remains an impressive bunch.
The word I think of when I think of Winnipeg is: stale. (It isn’t mosquitos).
The team has size, stars in Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, a good back end and a very good goalie in Connor Hellebuyck.
On-the-cusp star Pierre-Luc Dubois has indicated he’ll test free agency when his contract dries up in two seasons. That’s troubling as the Jets were clearly hoping to build around the 24-year-old winger after handing over Patrick Laine and Jack Roslovic for the Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts native in 2020.
No. 7: MONTREAL CANADIENS
Full-on rebuild happening in these parts.
The Habs are going about it in the right way too. Ice-time this season will belong to the likes of new captain Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach up front and Jordan Harris, Justin Barron and Kaiden Guhle on the blueline.
Oh yes, don’t sleep on top pick Juraj Slafkovsky (spell-check anyone?). By all reports this very large kid has all the tools.
Photo: Courtesy NHL.com