1 – Toronto Maple Leafs
Despite the lack of playoff success that other fanbases love to remind Toronto fans about, the Leafs are definitely the best Canadian team in the league at the moment. Led by a fantastic group of forwards, Toronto is currently 2nd in the Atlantic Division and 4th in the league with a record of 38-17-8. Unfortunately, the regular season success doesn’t mean a thing in Toronto anymore and the team will most likely have to go through Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs just to get the chance to play the historically good Boston Bruins. If the Leafs can’t find another gear come playoff time, this season may end with yet another disappointing playoff exit.
2 – Edmonton Oilers
No Canadian team went further in the playoffs than Edmonton did last year, and the Oilers are gearing up for another run. The team got better defensively with the addition of Mattias Ekholm, and their forwards have continued to produce at an incredibly high level all season long. Besides the obvious leaders of the team, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Hyman are both quietly enjoying career seasons with 78 and 72 points, respectively. The depth in scoring may not be there for the Oilers, but their top end talent sure makes that more manageable. Once again, the main question for this team heading into playoffs is goaltending. If they can’t get solid work in the crease, it really won’t matter how well the rest of the team is playing if they’re going up against a team like Colorado again.
3 – Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are faltering a little recently but still find themselves in the middle of the playoff hunt with a record of 36-25-3. Unfortunately, with a record of 2-6-2 in their last ten, they’ve been surpassed by Minnesota and will most likely be passed by Colorado as well in the Central Division standings. The team has enjoyed a career year from Josh Morrissey and a bounce back from goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, but still may not be complete enough to really compete for a chance at the Cup. At this point, finishing in a wild card spot and not having to play the Avalanche may actually be their best chance at success in the first round. Dallas and Vegas are formidable opponents, but Colorado still poses the biggest threat in the West.
4 – Ottawa Senators
The Sens have been picking up steam recently and are still right in the hunt for an Eastern Conference wild card spot. Although they did recently suffer a 5-0 loss to the Blackhawks, the team sits just three points back of Pittsburgh for eighth place in the conference. One of the biggest performers for the Sens during this last stretch of games has been Claude Giroux. The veteran forward is third on the team in points and has added ten in his last six games. With the addition of Jacob Chychrun on the back end, expect this young and feisty Ottawa team to make a legitimate push to be the fourth Canadian team in the NHL playoffs this year.
5 – Calgary Flames
Things have not gone according to plan in Calgary this year and it looks like time is running out on their season. Offseason acquisitions Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri have struggled to meet expectations after career highs last season and Jacob Markstrom has had his worst year as an NHL goalie. It seems like the team is getting a little tired of Darryl Sutter’s style as a head coach, and if they can’t get hot and make it into the playoffs this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sutter move on from the team in the offseason. Calgary still has skilled players on the roster, it just really hasn’t been their year.
6 – Vancouver Canucks
Not many teams have failed expectations like the Vancouver Canucks have this year. The team has tons of skill up front in guys like Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko and J.T. Miller, but a lack of competent defenceman and too many overpaid players have once again been major issues for this team. In terms of goaltending, they were a little unfortunate with Thatcher Demko getting injured after a very rocky start, but his presence throughout the season would not have changed much for the Canucks. At this point, it’s tough to know whether you even cheer for them to win games as a fan, because even the very outside chance of landing hometown hero Connor Bedard sounds great right now for Vancouver. It wasn’t expected, but the Canucks were not a top 5 Canadian team this season.
7 – Montreal Canadiens
Unlike the Canucks, there weren’t many expectations for this Canadiens team this year. They’re still young and the roster simply has too many holes to compete in the Eastern Conference or even with the majority of the other Canadian teams. However, they also got a little unlucky with the injury bug taking out multiple players such as Cole Caufield, Brendan Gallagher and Mike Matheson throughout the year. With high picks and exciting prospects in the pipeline, the future still looks OK for the Habs. Unfortunately, the team has a significant issue with the salary cap that they’ll have to address in the near future. After this year, Carey Price still carries a cap hit of $10.5 million for the next three seasons.
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