Pierre Lebrun tweeted out the proposed divisional re-alignment for the 2020-21 season, and it's the first indication of how things might look outside the all-Canadian division. Here's a look at all four divisions and why I think the proposed set up is setting Ottawa up to have good odds at a high pick yet again.
All Canadian Division
When you look at the seven teams lining up in this division, you have six teams that fall into a similar bracket, and one (I'll let you guess which one!) that was well below the rest. Did the Sens surprise sometimes against these other teams? Absolutely. But overall, it's clear that Ottawa is in a different (much lower) class than the other six.
Now, it's likely that one of these six will also get pushed down due to playing the rest all season, but it is very likely we will see the Sens losing a lot more than they win and being pushed to the bottom of the division and, as a result, league standings, because they will be playing high quality competition game in and game out.
This division is going to be nuts. It has so many really good teams (PIT, PHI, WSH, BOS, NYI, NYR) and two less good teams (NJ and BUF), but both have the potential to break out this year if things go right. It's hard to break these teams into tiers until we actually see hockey come back, and I think there's a chance that all of the teams remain in the mix for quite a while this season.
This means a team like Boston that usually gets to beat up on Ottawa, Detroit and Florida, is going to see its points relative to the rest of the league fall, but they will likely still be in the playoff mix when the dust settles at the end of the year. Because there is such parity in this division, it's unlikely we'll see any really high point totals, but also any really low point totals. This means that even the eventual losers in this division will be well ahead of the Sens in the league standings.
This might as well be called the "Places where Hockey Teams Shouldn't Exist" Division. Who is going to watch any of these games? It's going to be terrible. What's clear though is that there are three tiers in this division: the contenders (TBL and CAR), the pretenders (CHI, CBJ, FLA, MIN, NSH) and Detroit.
Tampa and Carolina should beat up on this division all season. The pretenders will make up the other two playoff spots, but will likely play pretty evenly with each other, resulting in three teams being too good for the basement, but not good enough for playoff hockey. And then you'll have Detroit, who will have another tough year and join Ottawa in the league basement.
This is another division where there are some clear tiers we can see right away. You have four teams that have a shot at the Cup most years (COL, DAL, STL, VGK) and four teams that are in various stages of rebuild (ANA, SJS, LA, ARI). Could one of these bottom teams surprise and challenge for a playoff spot? I think San Jose is the most likely candidate, and could make it a five-three split in the division.
Because you have these two clear tiers, the bottom feeders here will likely pick wins off each other all year and while they will finish out of the playoff picture, they won't get pushed down the same way Ottawa and Detroit will.
Where does this leave Ottawa?
This year is supposed to be, according to the Melnyk Plan, the year where the Sens climb back to the playoffs. As questionable as that would be in a normal season, the all-Canada division completely derails it. The Sens will be fun to watch and hopefully we'll see progress from the young guys, but we are going to see a lot of losing this year again. In the other divisions, the bottom-tier will be competitive enough that we will likely see Ottawa and Detroit in the bottom two spots for the second straight year. That means we'll have the best or second best odds at a top-3 pick again, and continue to build our deep prospect pool. With Brandt Clarke, an elite RHD, looking like a top-3 pick in 2021, I think we still have a pretty good consolation prize while we wait for the return to playoffs in 2022 and beyond.