The National Hockey League is officially back. It has been a long summer without hockey but the wait is over – and all seven Canadian franchises will fancy their chances of reaching the NHL playoffs next year.
As per usual, the battle for the Stanley Cup is wide open again this season, with the Tampa Bay Lightning priced up as 7/1 favourites to lift ice hockey’s most prestigious prize. For now, let’s look at the Canadian teams and whether they could emerge victorious.
Toronto Maple Leafs
A team made up of superstars, Toronto are second favourites in the early Stanley Cup odds and you can’t blame bookmakers for running scared of this Maple Leafs side. On paper, the 13-time Stanley Cup winners tick all the right boxes to challenge for ice hockey’s top prize.
If Auston Matthews and John Tavares can stay fit for most of the year, the Maple Leafs will be bang in contention to finish as the top ranked side in the Atlantic Division. Sending out a statement to Tampa Bay in the early stages of 2019/20 is very important.
The Maple Leafs have had to play second fiddle to the Lightning in recent years but the balance of power in the Atlantic could swing in favour of Toronto. Expect plenty of twists and turns – it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see the Maple Leafs topple their arch rivals.
The most successful team in NHL history with 24 Stanley Cup triumphs, the Canadiens have been spoiled. However, you have to go back to 1993 for Montreal’s last Stanley Cup triumph and you won’t find too many punters backing the Canadiens for number 25 this season.
An opening fixture with the Carolina Hurricanes won’t give too much away but Montreal will be looking to hit the ground running after a slow start last year. With just one playoff outing in the last four seasons, the pressure is on Montreal to perform in 2019/20.
Max Domi led the team in points last year and the onus will be on the 24-year-old to carry the Canadiens to the postseason. A contract extension is in the offering should Domi inspire confidence in the early stages of the year and he can be Montreal’s difference maker.
With no playoff berth in each of the previous two years, Ottawa are in desperate need of a big campaign. The Senators cannot afford to miss out on the postseason for the third year in a row and punters will be backing D. J. Smith’s side to bounce back in 2019/20.
Ottawa are in one of the toughest divisions in ice hockey – it can’t be easy going up against the likes of Toronto and Tampa Bay on a regular basis. However, the Senators acquired Lassi Thomson in the NHL Draft and he should bring reliability to the defensive unit.
The Senators won just 29 of their 82 regular season games last year and fans will be hoping for at least 15 more victories this campaign. 44 wins was enough to secure a playoff berth in 2016/17 so fingers crossed for a much improved season for Ottawa.
Winnipeg have finally started to prove their worth in the National Hockey League. Having secured just one playoff appearance in six years prior to 2017/18, the Jets have featured in the postseason in each of the last two campaigns.
Only a fool would back against Winnipeg ahead of 2019/20. The Jets are by no means the finished article but the potential is there and Canadian hockey fans will be excited ahead of what could be a memorable season at Bell MTS Place.
With Unibet offering 25/1 for the Jets to lift their first Stanley Cup crown, Winnipeg fans will be keeping a close eye on their start to the season. A fast start will send shockwaves across the National Hockey League and the Jets could be a force to be reckoned with this year.
Securing a playoff berth will do for Edmonton fans – they just want to be involved beyond the regular season. With just one postseason appearance since losing in the Stanley Cup series in 2006, the Oilers will need everything to go to plan to enjoy success.
Anything is possible when you have Connor McDavid on your roster. Edmonton have one of the NHL’s top talents and the Oilers star will be central to their chances of success this year. Expect McDavid to be in the hunt to finish as the league’s top points scorer in 2019/20.
The Oilers opened up with a hard-fought victory over the Vancouver Canucks in their first game of the new season, with McDavid scoring the decisive goal. If Edmonton’s main man can stay healthy, the Oilers will be in the playoff conversation come the end of the year.
Calgary topped the Pacific Division in 2018/19 but securing back-to-back titles will be no easy feat. The Flames have been inconsistent at best over the last four years, missing out on the playoffs in two of those campaigns.
Defence was key to Calgary’s success last season and the Flames will be looking for more of the same on that front in 2019/20. Getting off to the perfect start with a road win over the Colorado Avalanche will spark confidence and that will help settle any nerves.
Expecting the Flames to repeat in the Pacific would be foolish – this is one of the most competitive divisions in ice hockey. However, Calgary supporters will be demanding another playoff berth and that is fair enough given their strength in depth.
Last but not least, we have Vancouver. The Canucks pushed Edmonton close in their opener and Vancouver should take plenty of confidence from that clash. Perform at that level for most of 2019/20 and good things should happen.
With no standout name on the roster, you could be forgiven for assuming that Vancouver are doomed. However, it would be fair to state that the Canucks are about the collective rather than individual talent and you won’t find too many punters writing them off just yet.
The Canucks have reached the postseason just once in the last six years but Vancouver will be hoping to build on a positive 2018/19. Fans will have all fingers and toes crossed ahead of what could be a memorable campaign for the franchise.