Unique circumstances required some pretty unique thinking from the NHL, ahead of the 2020-21 season, with travel still problematic for teams with the border between Canada and the USA remaining closed. This was never going to be a straightforward season of ice hockey for any of the teams, although the NHL came up with a novel solution.
The 31 competing franchises have been split into four divisions: North, Central, East, and West. These four divisions are more focused on logistics than ever before, with all the teams placed in regional groupings to minimize travel requirements. Likewise, there will be no inter-divisional games during a shortened 56-game Regular Season.
With no Eastern Conference or Western Conference this season, the adapted League format will see the top four teams from each division will qualify directly for the Playoffs. Using the best-of-7 game’s format in each round of the Playoffs, the 16 qualifying teams will then battle to earn their path to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The countdown to January 13 is on!
— NHL (@NHL) December 23, 2020
Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting elements to the adapted format is all the Canadian teams in the North Division, grouped together for the first time in NHL history. Compared to previous campaigns, this could present a new and interesting challenge for all the competing teams, not to mention the added bonus that every game will be an all-Canadian affair.
While that could make predicting the final standings quite difficult, +145 NHL betting odds for the Toronto Maple Leafs makes them the early North Division favorites. Nevertheless, they are followed at +310 odds by the Edmonton Oilers, who registered the best point percentage (.585) of any of the Canadian teams during the truncated 2019-20 Regular Season. This may lead to some interesting games, but only time will tell.
Although the Leafs and the Oilers are clearly regarded as the two strongest teams, the North Division promises to be highly competitive, as teams fight to finish amongst the top four. In terms of point percentages last season, the difference was minimal between the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 26, 2020
Indeed, between the Oilers with their .585 point percentage and .563 registered by the Jets, there was hardly any daylight between six of the seven Canadian franchises. That bodes well for a super-competitive North Division battle, indicating that over the 56-game schedule, deciding the top four spots could go right down to the final games.
Then we have the Ottawa Senators, who endured a disastrous 2019-20 campaign, ranking 30th overall in the whole League with their .437 points percentage. The Senators are +10000 to win the North Division, although they have made some important roster improvements, which could make them a surprise package this year.
Regardless of how any teams performed last season, making predictions for the 2020-21 season is made all the more challenging. Comparing last season to the campaign to come, well, it’s like comparing chalk and cheese because of the format changes. However, that’s what makes the season ahead all the more exciting, because quite literally anything might happen.