The North Division holds an interesting set of teams contending for the playoffs. On one hand, the top three are seemingly decided in the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets. On the other, the Montreal Canadiens are followed by the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. Among the four teams currently in the playoffs, only three really tried to do anything with their team at the NHL trade deadline. Let’s break down how we got here.
Throughout the season, most NHL fans and pundits have had the Toronto Maple Leafs win the North Division. However, with less than a month left, the Leafs are looking increasingly unlikely to win the race of the north. With a 1-0-5 record of their last six games, they have not only fallen out of the lead league-wide, but they also started to lose grip of the first position of the Canadian division.
Currently, the Leafs have a six-point cushion with two more games played compared to both Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. Odds still say that Toronto Maple Leafs will win the all-Canadian Division. But their margin for error is increasingly small. If the Jets win their next two games, they have a legitimate chance to dethrone the Leafs. The Oilers are just one point behind the Jets, and if both teams ahead of them have poor showings in the remaining rounds, they could even end up winning.
We’ll see how the new players playing on their new teams will mesh, but there’s really no telling what can happen in the North come playoffs. Could the Flames accomplish the highly unlikely and grab a spot? Or will the Leafs crater in the first round as if struck by equal parts bad luck and irony? Not to mention how the Oilers’ lack of defence could be unforgiving for Edmonton if the duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are effectively held off on offence.
Toronto Maple Leafs added leadership
The Toronto Maple Leafs made some big compromises in acquiring Columbus Jackets’ Nick Foligno. The trade was complex since the Leafs’ cap could not absorb Foligno’s $5.5 million salary.
For the Foligno trade to happen, the San Jose Sharks had to come in and act as a broker. The Blue Jackets retained half of Foligno’s salary and received Toronto’s first-round pick and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs also traded a fourth-round pick to the Sharks from the 2022 NHL draft in exchange for retaining a quarter of Foligno’s salary. Additionally, the Leafs acquired Stefan Noesen from Sharks as part of the deal.
Leaving Toronto with only having to cover 25% of Foligno’s $5.5 million salary. All salary cap info from CapFriendly.com.
Foligno’s underlying numbers were not great this year, hitting numbers well below his career averages in terms of corsi, goals for, and expected goals for percentages at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted (all corsi, expected goals, and other stats from NaturalStatTrick.com). He’s a type of player that management will tout his intangibles being well worth the acquisition costs. Whether he’s able to turn his game around for the rest of the season will be a big factor into seeing if this turns out to be true.
The Leafs then added David Rittich from the Calgary Flames as a safety net, bringing him on to fill any potential gaps they might face with injury issues from Frederik Andersen or Jack Campbell falling back to earth with his numbers. They then closed out their trade activity by acquiring Ben Hutton from the Anaheim Ducks, as well as Antti Suomela from the Sharks. They are right up to the salary cap, and Kyle Dubas did everything he could to
It is safe to say that Leafs management geared up for a Stanley Cup win, and with the first two rounds being in the North Division, they have a good shot of escaping into the semi finals as a favourite. Let’s see if they can manage to secure the race of the North as the season comes to a close.
Winnipeg Jets added defensive depth
Winnipeg Jets acquired defenceman Jordie Benn from the Vancouver Canucks in return for a sixth-round pick in the NHL 2022 draft and did nothing else beyond that.
Benn is expected to bolster Jets’ defence corps during their Stanley Cup playoff run. While his expected goal percentages were underwater with the Canucks at 46.6%, his actual goals for percentages were not, coming in at a much better 55.05%. It’s one of those situations where the results are there against the odds. At the very least, Benn provides a formidable option for the Jets should they opt to deploy him.
Edmonton Oilers remained passive
Let’s be frank, the Edmonton Oilers do not have a deep-run playoff team. Oilers’ GM Ken Holland needed to add an impact player but remained inactive. They refused to give up their first-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft. The pick could easily have been used as a bargaining chip on the trade market, but the Oilers remained passive, only adding Dmitry Kulikov, who hardly moves the needle.
This may hint that even the management does not believe that their team has good chances in the postseason. They had the means to do something but did not pull any triggers to enhance the Oilers’ chances in the playoffs.
Edmonton Oilers scoring power when McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are not on the ice is very low, coming in at just 1.58 goals per hour, which doesn’t bode well for playoff standards. When the Leafs’ most impactful players are resting, they in contrast have a scoring rate of 2.29 goals per hour. Come a drawn-out game series against either the Leafs or the Jets; the Edmonton Oilers won’t be able to keep up.
They might just have sealed their fate for this season by sitting mostly idle in a season where the odds would have been greatly in their favour, again with the playoff format being the way it is.
Montreal Canadiens acted with intention
The Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin traded their third-round and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft for veteran centre Eric Staal, who fills an actual need. Additionally, they gave up a fifth-round pick and Hayden Verbeek for defensive player Jon Merrill. Bergevin added even more defensive capacity by trading a seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers for offensive defenceman Erik Gustafsson.
This resulted in a high-calibre centre and two defensive players who can put up serious minutes in the NHL playoffs. The trades provide Habs with many more options, especially on the blue line.
The moves should further cement Habs’ position within the playoff picture. They could very well cause some upsets during post-season play. It will certainly be interesting to see the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs.
Calgary Flames sold but aren’t out quite yet
As the Flames assessed their standings and felt it was the right time to sell, they’ll end up closing out their season with more new faces as prospects will be called up to fill in roles. It’ll take a miracle run for Calgary, but they’ve started to adapt to Sutter’s system, which will make for an exciting finish to the season. There are lots of games left against the exact teams they are chasing, so who knows if Calgary can eke in a playoff spot at the end of it all.