After what seems like the blink of an eye, the second month of 2020 is almost half over and the NHL season continues to get more and more interesting by the day. As you may have seen me write about before, Canadian teams are staying in the thick of things this season, and today we’re going to take a look at the top 3 storylines of the year so far for these Canadian teams.
Number 1 – The Battle of Alberta is allllllll the way back.
Even as a Canucks fan, this is an easy one. It’s not all that common anymore to see a rivalry where teams have such obvious dislike for one another, but this sure is the reality between the Flames and Oilers. During the course of the year, we’ve seen suspensions, chirping in the media, and a ton of fights between these two teams. Not only did we see two top point producers in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Monahan duke it out, we also saw a full out goalie fight. Now not everyone supports fighting in hockey with what we know about concussions and although this is a fair stance to take, the fights are almost inevitable in a rivalry with the amount of hatred between teams that this one has. This was the craziness that ensued last time these teams met:
Anyways, for most fans, it’s not necessarily the actual fighting that makes these games so intriguing, but the pure passion and intensity that we see on display. Not to mention the fact that these teams are very close in the standings, so the games are meaningful and more often than not end up being very close battles. That’s why whether you’re a brand new fan of the game or a long time supporter, you have to be cheering for a first round playoff matchup between Calgary and Edmonton this year. It’s not just Canadians who want to see it happen, it’s the hockey world as a collective. Love it or hate it, the Battle of Alberta is great for the game and has produced some of the most highlight-worthy hockey this year, and for that reason, it’s been the most exciting storyline of the season so far.
Number 2 – The Canucks at the top of the Pacific division
Although the Pacific division race is still super close, the Canucks have been hanging on to first place for a while now, much to the surprise of many people around the league. They’ve been able to do it with the help of solid performances from newcomers like J.T. Miller, an awesome rookie year from Quinn Hughes, and fantastic goaltending from both Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko. On top of that, young stars Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser have continued their success from previous campaigns. Although many people believe that the Canucks won’t hit their prime for a few years, this season’s squad is making fans believe that their return to postseason relevance is a lot closer than people thought, and that they may even be able to make a run this year. As they as they can get performances like this one last night from Markstrom, they’ll have a shot.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) February 13, 2020
After their win over the Chicago Blackhawks last night and Edmonton’s loss in Tampa today, Vancouver will be 3 points clear of second in the division with 24 games left on the schedule. As close as the playoffs are beginning to feel, that’s a lot of games that have yet to be played, and spots in the postseason aren’t guaranteed yet. With any luck, the Canucks will do well in the last half of their six game home stand before hitting the road to play Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Columbus. On paper, those are all teams they can beat, and if they were able to grab at least 5 points over those games at this point of the season, it would go a long way in protecting their division lead. For now though, Canucks fans will just have to wait and see if they really have a team to be excited about once again.
Number 3 – The Toronto Maple Leafs are fighting for a playoff spot
Imagine paying four players a combined 40 million dollars per season when the league’s salary cap is $80 million. Usually that would mean you have stars right now, but it would also mean that you’re banking on your team to go on a run in the next few years. Of course, both are true for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They do have a star-studded lineup which includes William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. They also have a good supporting cast of players such as Kasperi Kapenen, Morgan Reilly, Tyson Barrie, and goaltender Frederik Anderson. What’s unfortunate about the Leafs in this situation however, is that the playoffs are no guarantee. If you need a little refresher on this situation, check this video out first:
When you build such a talented roster, not making the playoffs is an absolute nightmare, especially when you’re playing in one of the most hockey crazed cities in the NHL. For the Leafs, the window is now. Any season that they don’t reach the Stanley Cup Finals can be looked at as a failure, because that is what this team is built to do. Although that seems like an awful lot of pressure for players to deal with, they made the big dollars for a reason, and now is the time to prove why it was the right call. The good thing about this situation for Toronto is that as long as they’re in the playoffs, the roster they have can give them a chance to win games. They’re famous for always losing to Boston in game seven of the first round of playoffs, but last year, that same Boston team that beat them came one win away from a Stanley Cup. So as tough as it’s been over the years for Leafs fans, there still has to be some hope for this year’s team to finally break through. Assuming they make it to the playoffs, that is.
And there you have it. This NHL season has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but as playoffs loom, it’s an exciting time to be a fan in Canada. So let’s hope for that Battle of Alberta, hope the Canucks hang on to first, and let’s hope Toronto – never mind.