Ranking Canada's NHL teams: Oilers rising, Habs and Leafs falling

·10-min read
The Oilers are surging, the Jets are staying afloat, and the Maple Leafs are currently Ontario's second-best team. (Getty)
The Oilers are surging, the Jets are staying afloat, and the Maple Leafs are currently Ontario's second-best team. (Getty)

The NHL's North Division may have been disbanded after one season, but that doesn't mean everyone has stopped caring about who the best team in Canada is.

When a Canadian squad is playing poorly, you better believe the other six fanbases will be ready to pile on. 

Despite a couple of notable poor starts, a number of Canadian franchises have begun the campaign strong, especially the Edmonton Oilers — and they slot into the No. 1 spot of our early-season Canadian NHL team rankings.

1. Edmonton Oilers

Starting the 2021-22 NHL season with a sterling 5-0-0 record, the Oilers are the easy choice to slot in at No. 1 north of the border.

Of its five wins, two have come against Canadian teams (3-2 SO vs. VAN, 5-2 vs. CGY). Edmonton's charge up the standings has been in large part due to the play of its superstars. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined for 24 points through five games, and are on 213- and 180-point paces respectively. 

New addition Zach Hyman has fit in seamlessly, much to the chagrin of Leafs fans. The gritty forward has potted five goals and six points thus far and is playing a role eerily similar to the one Chris Kunitz played on the championship Pittsburgh Penguins teams.

An underappreciated factor into the Oilers' early-season success has been the play of its goaltenders — mainly Mikko Koskinen. Last year's starter, Mike Smith, has been dealing with a lower-body injury but there's been no drop in play since Koskinen took over. The Finnish netminder is a perfect 3-0 in his three appearances and has registered an impressive .943 save percentage on the year.

If there was an area of criticism, it'd deal with the play of Tyson Barrie. The offensive blueliner has been held pointless in four of the team's five games. He just signed a three-year, $13.5-million extension with Edmonton this offseason.

2. Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames slot in at No. 2 on the all-Canadian power rankings with a 4-1-1 record, but the team's recent performances show that it could potentially compete for the top spot.

Calgary has won four straight road games, including one against the Washington Capitals and another against the New York Rangers — a pair of squads that have looked very good to begin this season.

Its success has largely dealt with the play of its defense and goaltending. The Flames have allowed a respectable 8.9-high danger chances against, which amounts to the fewest of any team north of the border, according to Natural Stat Trick.

This complimentary style has also helped goaltender Jacob Markstrom. After an uninspiring 2020-21 campaign, he's posted a stellar .934 save percentage with a shutout.

Johnny Gaudreau leads the way offensively with eight points — all assists — along with Elias Lindholm, who has scored seven times. Andrew Mangiapane has notched seven goals as well, tying him with Lindholm for tops on the team.

3. Winnipeg Jets

A 3-2-1 record isn't anything to get excited about, but with added context, the Winnipeg Jets have performed well through the very early portion of this season.

Before talking about notable on-ice performances, the players who haven't seen much ice-time must be addressed first. A suspension and a placement into the NHL's COVID protocols have limited Mark Scheifele to just two games played. Additionally, team captain Blake Wheeler has been limited to two games so far due to his stint in the league's COVID protocols.

Despite missing two of its most impactful forwards, the Jets offense has remained strong. Its four goals per game are the second-highest of any Canadian team, and it has its deep forward pool to thank for that.

Players like Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Andrew Copp have all stepped up which has helped the team whether some crucial absences. Connor has posted six goals and 10 points, Dubois has tallied four goals and seven points, while Copp has four goals and eight points.

Where the team hasn't seen impressive results is in its own end of the ice. Despite adding Nate Schmidt and Brendan Dillon this offseason, the squad really hasn't seen improved defensive play. Winnipeg's 13.7 high-danger chances against per game are the most of any Canadian team.

This has reflected in the play of Connor Hellebuyck, who's struggled early on. In five starts, the former Vezina Trophy winner has produced a .891 save percentage, well below his career number of .916.

4. Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have been just OK to begin the 2021-22 season, but that's good enough to claim Canada's fourth seed.

The team has earned a 3-3-1 record, but none of its wins this season have been overly impressive. It defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout in addition to beating the lowly Chicago Blackhawks and Seattle Kraken in regulation.

Its standout offensive performer so far has been offseason acquisition Conor Garland. The tenacious winger has recorded eight points, including one in six of the squad's seven games. His three goals are one behind captain Bo Horvat for the team lead.

Defensively, there have been some issues. Vancouver has allowed a poor 12.7 high-danger chances per game this season. Quinn Hughes has been solid for the team, recording five points, which ties him for 11th in the league amongst rearguards.

In net, Thatcher Demko has excelled. He's registered a .921 save percentage to accompany his 3-2-1 record.

5. Ottawa Senators

One thing Ottawa Senators fans can say — that the two teams below it can't — is that every game the team played this season has been competitive.

Despite an underwhelming 2-4-0 record, none of the squad's games have been decided by more than two goals. It also has an even 1-1 record against Canadian teams, splitting its pair of games against the Maple Leafs to start the year.

Outside of a hat trick from Drake Batherson in its most recent game against the Washington Capitals, it really hasn't seen many overly impressive offensive efforts. Exciting youngster Tim Stuetzle has been held to zero goals through six games, while Brady Tkachuk hasn't found the back of the net in his three games played.

Ottawa's defense hasn't been great, either, allowing 12.2 high danger chances per game, a number that ranks amongst the worst in the league. One positive from the back end, however, has been the play of Thomas Chabot. The 24-year-old has posted an impressive 58.9 possession rate and seems to be morphing into a true No. 1 rearguard.

It's been a real adventure between the pipes for the Sens. Matt Murray returned last Thursday after an illness kept him from playing through the first week, but in his second start, he was knocked out of the game by New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider. It now seems likely that he'll be placed on injured reserve. That'll leave Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson to split duties in the interim, and neither has played well this season.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs

With a 2-4-1 record, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the biggest disappointments across the NHL to begin this season.

Its minus-10 goal differential is tied for last among the Canadian teams, while its 1.86 goals per game are the fourth-worst number in the league.

The offense has been an absolute mess thus far, as William Nylander leads the way with two goals and five points. In four games played, Auston Matthews has produced just one goal while Marner, who's suited up in all seven contests, has recorded just one assist. The offense will likely turn itself around at some point, but it just hasn't been able to convert in the early going.

On defense, it's been a nightmare, too, as nobody has really played up to expectations. The Buds have allowed 13.2 high-danger chances per game, tying them for the worst mark among Canada's seven teams. Unlike the offense, it's harder to bank on the defense rebounding as it just doesn't have the pieces to become one of the better units in the league.

In net, there's also reason to be concerned. The oft-injured Petr Mrazek has already suffered a groin injury and Jack Campbell's never held down the crease as a lead goalie for an entire 82-game season. He's been fine so far with a .915 save percentage, but he'll be tested in a way that he's never been before as the season rolls along. 

7. Montreal Canadiens

It's been an ugly 1-6-0 start to the season for the Montreal Canadiens, and it doesn't appear things are going to get better anytime soon.

Its three biggest contributors to its postseason success in 2020-21 - Shea Weber, Phillip Danault, and Carey Price - are all absent and two of the three are certainly not walking back through the doors of the Bell Centre anytime soon, while it remains to be seen when Price will make his return.

That's left a lot of pressure on youngsters Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield who have massively underwhelmed to begin the season. Through seven games, the two have combined for three points, and it reflects in the Habs' league-worst 1.57 goals per game.

Defensively, things haven't been horrible as Montreal is allowing a mediocre 10 high-danger chances against per game. It's clear the team misses Weber, but it hasn't been overly bad without him.

Goaltending has been a problem for the Canadiens as Jake Allen has not risen to the occasion. He's handled six of the Habs' seven starts, and he's posted a .890 save percentage. Getting no goal support and playing poorly, Allen's record has sunk to 1-5-0.

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