Toughest realigned NHL division debated by NHL.com

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The NHL realigned its divisions for the 2020-21 season, which will start Jan. 13, 2021, and have each team playing a condensed 56-game intradivisional schedule.

The Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will play in the East Division.

The Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning will compete in the Central Division.

The Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights will be in the West Division.

The Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets will play in the North Division.

 

[RELATED: NHL season to start Jan. 13, play 56 gamesNHL realigns for 2020-21 season]

 

The top four teams in each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We asked four NHL.com staff writers which division should be considered the toughest. Here are their answers:

 

North Division

The quality of this division is clear by looking at the list of recent NHL award winners. Oilers center Leon Draisaitl won the Hart Trophy voted as the MVP of the NHL last season and also won the Art Ross Trophy as the scoring champion. Teammate Connor McDavid, who I believe is the most talented player in all of hockey, won the Hart in 2017. Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets won the Vezina Trophy voted as top goalie last season, and Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes finished second to Avalanche defensemen Cale Makar for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Hughes’ teammate, forward Elias Pettersson, won the Calder in 2019. From a team standpoint, there are no weak ones here. Six of the seven made it to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season. The one that didn’t, the Ottawa Senators, had a productive offseason, adding forwards Evgenii Dadonov and Alex Galchenyuk as free agents. They selected forward Tim Stuetzle with the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and acquired forward Austin Watson, defenseman Erik Gudbranson and goalie Matt Murray in trades. Any one of the Oilers, Canucks, Jets, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Flames could win the division, yet two won’t make the playoffs. That’s how tough it is. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

 

Central Division

I am shocked — shocked — that Zeisberger went with the division made up of the teams based in Canada. It’s not a shock that I’m going with the Central, being that I have covered most of the teams in the division for the past 10 seasons. The Central this season will include the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning, the Cup runner-up Stars and the always exciting and interesting Hurricanes. I’m curious to see how the Panthers play for Joel Quenneville, a longtime Central coach with the Blackhawks, entering his second season as coach. The Predators are looking to bring a more physical game, as evidenced by their offseason signings of forward Nick Cousins and defensemen Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning. The Blue Jackets play good, blue-collar hockey. And if you love a good old rivalry, the Blackhawks and Red Wings are reunited, with Detroit coming over from the Atlantic. I don’t know if it will have the animosity of years past, but it’s two Original Six teams trying to recapture past glory. Bring on the fun in the Central. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

 

West Division

The Blues, Avalanche and Golden Knights finished 1-2-3 in the West last season. Not the West Division. The Western Conference. The Blues and Avalanche were second and third in the NHL standings, respectively, behind the Bruins. The Golden Knights were eighth. That’s strength. By shifting the Blues to the West, the NHL created a monster of a division and added intrigue. Former Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo signed as a free agent with the Golden Knights on Oct. 12 and plays his former team eight times in division games, and the Blues signed a free agent defenseman of their own, Torey Krug, from the Bruins. Vegas went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, St. Louis won the Cup in 2019, and Colorado is a Cup contender. Now add the Coyotes and Wild, who made the 2020 postseason, and rivalries like the Golden Knights vs. the Sharks and the Ducks vs. the Kings. Yes, West is best. — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist

 

East Division

You can have your North, Central and West, I’m sticking with my East (Coast) bias. This is one tough division, with some old stalwarts, some up-and-comers and some intense rivalries. Four of the top seven teams by points percentage in the NHL in 2019-20 are in this division (Bruins, Capitals, Flyers and Penguins). And one that wasn’t up there, the Islanders, reached the Eastern Conference Final. That’s some heavy hockey at the top of this division. That doesn’t even account for up-and-coming teams like the Rangers, who will have forward Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft; the Sabres, who signed forward Taylor Hall as a free agent; and the Devils, who added goalie Corey Crawford in free agency. This is a division that’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch, a rivalry-heavy behemoth with the chops to back it up. I’m glad I don’t have to play in the East, but it’ll sure be a treat to watch every night. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

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