NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs Best Team In Canada?
Canadian NHL Power Rankings
Paul Stastny, Joel Armia, Steve Mason, Michael Hutchinson
Salary cap issues required action, resulting in Winnipeg trading Steve Mason and Joel Armia, along with a seventh-round pick and a fourth-round pick, to the Montreal Canadiens. The Jets receive Simon Bourque from the Habs, a defense prospect who tallied only three points in the minors last season.
Considering Hellebuyck’s dominance in goal and Mason’s inconsistent stint in Manitoba, pulling the trigger on a salary dump will ensure that the Jets have plenty of cap space available for the next year or two. Winnipeg didn’t retain Paul Statsny, a move which would maintain the Jets elite forward group that nearly made the Stanley Cup finals. Statsny defecting to Las Vegas on a relatively manageable contract stings, especially after the Golden Knights already handled the Jets in the western conference finals.
Armia and Statsny moving on will sap the Jets of their forward depth, but this team still possesses a deep, deadly group of top flight scorers. Laurent Brossoit will likely backup Hellebuyck after previous backup Hutchinson signed with Florida.
Winnipeg’s superb defense remains untouched, which maintains the Jets status as genuine contenders. Toronto made all the headlines during free agency in 2018, but the Jets remain the best Canadian club in the NHL.
Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Tyler Ennis
James Van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Roman Polak, Tomas Plekanec, Martin Marincin, Matt Martin
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been ahead of the curve during their rebuild, earning a playoff spot over the past two seasons. Signing John Tavares signals a massive leap in expectation for this franchise, which will aim to win a Stanley Cup every year for the next half-decade. Despite this massive coup for the Leafs front office, Toronto still isn’t the best Canadian team in the league – but they’re close.
Until Toronto proves otherwise, a lack of defense could limit the Maple Leafs when the playoffs begin. Teams like Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh feature strong defenses anchored by Norris-worthy bluelines, while Zach Werenski and Seth Jones may emerge as an elite top pairing for the Blue Jackets.
Should an opportunity arise to bolster the Maple Leafs blueline, the front office created a scenario where Toronto holds enough resources and cap space to pounce on available top-line defenders. Somehow, the Maple Leafs convinced the Islanders to replace Tavares with Leo Komarov and Matt Martin at an inflated cost. They also lost the contracts of Bozak and Van Riemsdyk, both of whom are likely beyond their prime.
If Winnipeg slips or the Leafs defense solidifies, the Toronto Maple Leafs will claim top spot in Canadian pro hockey.
James Neal, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Derek Ryan
Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, Matt Bartkowski
Calgary looked like a playoff club for much of the 2017-18 campaign. After Mike Smith’s second injury derailed momentum, the Flames ended the season with a strange, lengthy slump to tumble out of contention. The defensive depth of Calgary wasn’t able to buoy an offense that relied mostly on Johnny Hockey.
Drastic measures were taken to avoid another low scoring season. Dougie Hamilton, Adam Fox and Micheal Ferland were traded to the Hurricanes for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. James Neal received a five-year, $28.75 million contract. Neal’s a proven scorer, while Lindholm will be expected to become a consistent, top-six forward.
Neal might be overpaid and Dougie Hamilton’s a superb scoring defenseman, but Calgary should be lauded for bold steps to rejuvenate their lineup. The Flames defensive integrity should remain solid, while their attack should be more dangerous.
Finding a solid backup for Mike Smith would be nice, but Calgary will ride the veteran goalie as far as possible. If the lineup gels under coach Bill Peters, the Flames could brighten into a sleeper pick for a Stanley cup run.
Kyle Brodziak, Tobias Rieder
Laurent Brossoit, Iiro Pakarinen, Dillon Simpson, Anton Slepyshev
Edmonton needed to get some help for Connor McDavid, who lead the league in scoring for the second consecutive season. This time, his heroics weren’t enough for another stint in the playoffs. The Oilers experienced problems up and down the lineup, including issues with scoring depth and defensive integrity.
Cam Talbot had an off year dealing with injury and a hectic work load, which made it more difficult for Edmonton to hide their defensive deficiencies. Salary cap issues, poor drafting and ill-conceived trades prevented Oilers management from adding significant external talent.
This franchise will need to grow from within. Players like Oscar Klefbom and Jesse Puljujärvi must successfully skate into bigger roles, improvements which aren’t a guarantee. Even if Jesse and Oscar play well, Edmonton simply doesn’t feature the type of depth necessary to maximize the talents of the best player in the league.
With an historic talent like McDavid, the Oilers always have a shot at surprising the NHL. Until that happens, Edmonton’s likely to finish outside of the playoffs.
Max Domi, Joel Armia, Matthew Peca
Alex Galchenyuk, Daniel Carr, Adam Cracknell
Absorbing Steve Mason’s contract from the Winnipeg Jets in return for Joel Armia is one of the few unequivocal winning trades for the Canadiens, who’ve been outmaneuvered at the management level for the last few years. Swapping Alex Galchenyuk for Max Domi could go either way, as both players have struggled to regain top form displayed in years past.
Considering Arizona’s ascendance after the all-star break, Galchenyuk will be in a better position to succeed compared to Domi, who will be expected to create offense on a down-trending club. Shea Weber won’t be around until December. After knee surgery and foot problems, there’s no guarantee Weber will be as effective as usual, which could make the Habs defense among the most lead-footed in the NHL.
Montreal hasn’t been a top contender for years. Attempts to win now sapped the Habs of resources needed to rebuild. The rest of the NHL pursued strategies involving a mix of youth development and smart contracts. Instead, Montreal’s gotten older and less talented, wasting the prime years of Carey Price and Max Pacioretty.
Tough to see Montreal competing at a high level this season, even if Price enjoys a Vezina-worthy campaign.
Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Tim Schaller
The Sedin Twins, Nic Dowd, Michael Chaput
Now that the era of the Sedin Twins is officially over, Vancouver’s changing of the guard proceeds full speed. There’s no denying that the Canucks have drafted well over the past few years, as Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser emerged with the potential to become elite top line forwards. Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi will be counted upon to join Bo and Brock soon. Pettersson’s played well in Sweden, scoring more than a point per game as a 19-year-old skating against men.
For some reason, the Canucks decided to invest serious money in Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, veteran forwards likely past their prime. This undermines the terrific work that Vancouver scouts have performed to find players like Boeser at 23 overall.
The money used for these forwards might have been more useful to allocate for defensive reinforcements and upcoming contract negotiations for young Canucks stars. Presumed starter Jacob Markstrom shows flashes as a legitimate number one goalie, but the quality of the team in front of him prevents Vancouver from fully gauging Markstrom’s skill.
Vancouver has a bright future, as long as they avoid poor signing and trades, although a playoff spot will be a longshot in the western conference.
Mikkel Boedker, Nate Thompson, Johnny Oduya
Mike Hoffman, Tommy Wingels, Viktor Stalberg
After a miraculous 2016-17 season which involved an inspiring run to the eastern conference finals, Ottawa finds themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum during the 2018 offseason. Mike Hoffman was forced out of town because of disturbing allegations of cyberbullying from his fiancée. Erik Karlsson appears all but finished with the franchise after dealing with family tragedy and the harassment of his wife.
Kyle Turris was lucky to receive a ticket out of town for the Matt Duchene trade, which triggered a long losing streak. The Hoffman trade didn’t work well either, with the Sharks immediately flipping Hoffman to the Panthers for a superior haul.
The calendar year of 2018 might be the beginning of the end for this franchise, which already deals with difficulty selling tickets when the team plays well. There’s a miniscule chance of the Senators playing quality hockey this season, which will make the drive to Kanata even less palatable for Ottawa fans.
Expect a long season of dreary hockey in Canada’s capital.
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