Canada’s teams rise up

Led by young guns Matthews, McDavid, Leafs and Oil­ers on as­cent

Waterloo Region Record - - SPORTS - Jonas Siegel The Cana­dian Press

It was just two sea­sons ago that, for the first time in 46 years, not a sin­gle Cana­dian team qual­i­fied for the Na­tional Hockey League play­offs.

Now, not only are nearly all of the NHL’s seven Cana­dian squads de­cent bets to crack the post-sea­son, a few might even be vi­able Stan­ley Cup con­tenders.

From Con­nor McDavid’s Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers to Aus­ton Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs, here’s a look at the po­ten­tial for­tunes of Canada’s seven teams for the com­ing sea­son:

Ot­tawa Se­na­tors Play­off like­li­hood: Bub­ble

The Se­na­tors sur­vived close mar­gins to come within a goal of their first Stan­ley Cup fi­nal in a decade, but what comes next?

The only play­off team with a neg­a­tive goal dif­fer­en­tial last sea­son, the Sens were also weak in puck pos­ses­sion with be­low-av­er­age spe­cial teams — all of which sug­gests good for­tune that might be dif­fi­cult to repli­cate.

Ot­tawa can count on Erik Karls­son’s bril­liance and de­pend­able play from the likes of Mark Stone, Mike Hoff­man and Der­ick Bras­sard. But who steps in for the de­parted Marc Methot along­side Karls­son, and what can vet­eran de­fence­man Dion Pha­neuf de­liver as time keeps catch­ing up?

Craig An­der­son was sen­sa­tional in goal de­spite chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances last year, but his num­bers have bounced to some de­gree from year to year. What hap­pens to the Se­na­tors if the 36-year-old is merely or­di­nary?

Toronto Maple Leafs Play­off like­li­hood: Strong

The Leafs were pow­ered by youth last sea­son and nearly top­pled the Pres­i­dent’s Tro­phy win­ning-Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals in the first round. Ex­pec­ta­tions that were once min­i­mal are ris­ing fast and with that comes a new, added pres­sure on a team that shouldn’t sur­prise any­one any longer.

Play­offs are now the ex­pec­ta­tion, not some treat at the end of a sto­ry­book year. How will a team that’s still quite young re­spond? What will sopho­more sea­sons look like for Calder Me­mo­rial Tro­phy win­ner Aus­ton Matthews and any num­ber of the rook­ies that took the league by storm last year?

The club only tin­kered in the sum­mer, adding 38-year-old for­mer Sharks star Pa­trick Mar­leau, vet­eran Ron Hain­sey to play in a top-four role on de­fence and Do­minic Moore to sta­bi­lize the fourth-line cen­tre spot.

Mon­treal Cana­di­ens Play­off like­li­hood: Strong

Mon­treal gen­eral man­ager Marc Bergevin had an­other big sum­mer, but will it fi­nally pay div­i­dends with a deep play­off run?

The Habs landed in­trigu­ing 22-yearold Jonathan Drouin, signed Karl Alzner for five years and ex­tended fran­chise corner­stone Carey Price for eight.

The ef­fect of Drouin, who hails from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., is worth watch­ing. He has star po­ten­tial and the abil­ity to re­place lost fire­power from Alex Radulov, who left for Dal­las.

With Price, the Cana­di­ens have a chance to make noise in a rel­a­tively punch­less East.

Win­nipeg Jets Play­off like­li­hood: Bub­ble

It’s hard to win with­out con­sis­tent goal­tend­ing, and the Jets are bet­ting on Steve Ma­son to solve those woes this year be­hind a tal­ented group that in­cludes Calder tro­phy run­ner-up Pa­trik Laine, emerg­ing first-line cen­tre Mark Scheifele and fun 21-year-old Dane Niko­laj Eh­lers.

But what can Ma­son ac­tu­ally de­liver? Last year was a lost one for the 29-year-old, but in three sea­sons pre­vi­ous the Oakville, Ont., na­tive was sta­ble if not spec­tac­u­lar. The Jets will take plain old sta­bil­ity af­ter years of the op­po­site.

The Jets will look for Laine soar to as a sopho­more and hope hid­den tal­ents such as Kyle Con­nor and Jack Roslovic make the leap.

Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers Play­off like­li­hood: Strong

The Oil­ers locked up their two big­gest tal­ents in the sum­mer, sign­ing Con­nor McDavid and Leon Drai­saitl to eight-year deals with McDavid’s get­ting un­der­way in 2018.

The cap­tain is al­ready a sure thing at age 20 — maybe the best player in the world — but there’s still a cer­tain cu­rios­ity with Drai­saitl and his abil­ity to reach elite heights with­out McDavid. A stel­lar play­off show­ing tem­po­rar­ily eased those con­cerns, but now ex­pec­ta­tions have risen for both player and fran­chise.

Ed­mon­ton reached their first play­off in more than a decade and nearly top­pled the Ducks en route to the West­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal, but whether they can jump an­other rung likely de­pends on the con­tri­bu­tions of those such as Ryan Nu­gent-Hop­kins, Mi­lan Lu­cic and the newly added Ryan Strome.

Above all, the Oil­ers need Cam Tal­bot to of­fer an­other stel­lar year be­tween the pipes.

Cal­gary Flames Play­off like­li­hood: Strong

GM Brad Tre­liv­ing con­tin­ues to tin­ker with the ros­ter, this time with an­other at­tempted up­grade in goal and fur­ther bol­ster­ing on de­fence.

Mike Smith is the lat­est hope­ful for the Flames crease, with the 35-year-old ar­riv­ing by trade one year af­ter Cal­gary landed Brian El­liott to do the same. Smith prob­a­bly isn’t the guy who fin­ished fourth in Vez­ina tro­phy vot­ing in 2012, but he should bring sta­bil­ity be­hind an al­ready sturdy de­fence that added Travis Ha­monic to top-four stal­warts Mark Gior­dano, Dougie Hamil­ton and T.J. Brodie.

Van­cou­ver Canucks Play­offs: Un­likely

The hir­ing of new head coach Travis Green seems to sug­gest some re­al­iza­tion that the Canucks, as cur­rently as­sem­bled, are a ways from play­off con­tention. Get­ting back there means mov­ing the nee­dle with young tal­ent, a task Green will now over­see.

The 46-year-old, who won a cham­pi­onship with the West­ern Hockey League’s Port­land Win­ter­hawks, will be counted on to ig­nite a stuffy of­fence while bring­ing along the likes of Bo Hor­vat, Brock Boeser and Olli Juolevi.

A big­ger sto­ry­line likely to linger: the fu­ture of the Sedins, who are now in the fi­nal year of their re­spec­tive con­tracts. GM Jim Ben­ning says he won’t trade Daniel or Hen­rik un­less they ask and the twins seem con­tent on stay­ing.

LIAM RICHARDS, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

It was just two sea­sons ago that, for the first time in 46 years, not a sin­gle Cana­dian team qual­i­fied for the NHL play­offs. That won’t hap­pen in 2017-18.

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