With the 2020-21 NHL season starting Wednesday, NHL.com is taking a look at the five top storylines in each of the four realigned divisions. Today, the Scotia North Division, which includes the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.
Of the seven NHL teams based in Canada, the Senators were the only one not to qualify for the 2020 postseason, an indication of how competitive the North will be. The uniqueness of having all seven teams based in Canada playing in the same division, which features top forwards like Connor McDavid of the Oilers and Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs, has the players eager to get going.
“It’s an interesting division because just about anyone can win,” McDavid said. “An all-Canadian division’s exciting. It’s never happened before. You look at some of the rivalries, some of the matchups, I think it can make for a pretty exciting division.”
1. Battle of Alberta
There has always been plenty of animosity between the Flames and Oilers, and that will be cranked up with the bitter rivals scheduled to play each other 10 times during the regular season. It has been 30 years since Calgary and Edmonton faced off in a playoff series, so the intensity of playing so many games against each other should be at a fever pitch, especially at the end of the season, when they are scheduled to play each other three times in the final five games.
2. Matthews vs. McDavid
McDavid, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Matthews, selected No. 1 in the 2016 NHL Draft, have played against each seven times in four seasons. This season, they are scheduled to face off against each other nine times, and hockey fans will be the winners. In their previous seven games against each other, McDavid has scored 10 points (three goals, seven assists), and Matthews has five points (three goals, two assists). McDavid trained with Matthews in Arizona during the offseason, so the two know each other’s game well. Since 2016-17, McDavid leads the NHL in points (421); in that same span, Matthews’ 158 goals are second to Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin‘s 181.
3. Brotherly loathe
More than 35 family and friends were at Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 24, 2019, to see brothers Matthew Tkachuk of the Flames and Brady Tkachuk of the Senators play against each other in an NHL game for the first time. The Flames won 2-1, and Brady, the younger sibling by two years, became impatient after the game waiting for Matthew. “If he doesn’t hurry up and get out here, I’m going to kill him,” Brady said. Such is the competitive nature of the forwards, whose teams are scheduled to play each other nine times. Their father, Keith Tkachuk, was one of the feistiest players in the NHL during his 1,201-game career, and his kids have followed in those footsteps.
4. Calgary Canucks?
The Flames signed four free agents this offseason who played for the Canucks last season: goalies Jacob Markstrom and Louis Domingue, defenseman Christopher Tanev, and forward Josh Leivo. Markstrom appeared headed for a contract extension with the Canucks until an injury during the Stanley Cup Playoffs allowed backup Thatcher Demko to step in and shine against the Vegas Golden Knights. Markstrom ended up signing a six-year, $36 million contract (average annual value $6 million) with the Flames on Oct. 9. With Markstrom (229) and Tanev (514) having played a combined 743 games for Vancouver, expect the 10 games this season to have added intensity.
5. Blue and white targets
The Canadiens and Senators share a common trait: disdain for the Maple Leafs. Ottawa and Montreal each is within a five-hour drive of Toronto, so geography plays a factor. So does history. Though the Maple Leafs and Canadiens haven’t faced each other in the postseason in 42 years, they’ve played each other 747 times in the regular season (Montreal is 359-289-11 with 88 ties) and are scheduled to play 10 more times this season, including the season opener at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS). The Senators and their fans have had a chip on their collective shoulders since being eliminated from the playoffs by the Maple Leafs four times in five seasons (2000-04). Ottawa and Toronto are scheduled to play nine times this season. Senators coach D.J. Smith was an assistant with the Maple Leafs from 2015-19.