I’ve never watched Cheers before, but I have seen the show’s final shot. Sam Malone closes up the bar, waves away a potential customer and takes one last stroll around the empty tavern, silently reminiscing about the memories made there.
Here in the North Division, the Canucks and Flames will be locking up the joint. Only neither have the good looks of Ted Danson. Or the positive storyline of an 80s sitcom bartender.
Much like a pub at closing time the playoff bound teams have already left, while two of the three eliminated Canadian clubs are left with some tidying up to do. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens renewed a century old rivalry with their first playoff meeting since 1979 on Thursday, while the Oilers and Jets threw it back to the Smythe Division after their postseason series began on Wednesday.
Yet last Sunday, on a weekend chalked full of incredible playoff hockey, the NHL’s nightcap was a battle between two teams with only a draft lottery to look forward to; a game where the Canucks erased a 5-1 Flames lead before giving up the winner to Elias Lindholm in overtime.
Vancouver and Calgary ended up playing another two times before their seasons came to a merciful end, thanks to the league insisting every team finish their 56-game schedules, Covid outbreak or not. While I can’t speak to Calgary’s experiences playing exclusively in the 49th Parallel, for Canucks Nation the demise of the North Division couldn’t have come soon enough.
The shortened campaign the Canucks embarked on in January has at times felt like the longest season in franchise history. A player facing a civil lawsuit over sexual misconduct allegations. A COVID outbreak that put the entire team out of commission for a month. And of course, injuries.
And that doesn’t include all the outside factors that made it even tougher. Things like empty arenas, the extra amount of socially distanced arguments between fanbase sects, and the loss of a beloved local radio station that had provided a voice to a large part of Vancouver’s hockey media and fans for two decades.
That’s not to say it was all bad, of course. The rise of Nils Höglander gave the city a surprise fan favourite. Thatcher Demko put together a season that might’ve warranted Vezina votes had the realities of the pandemic not gotten in the way. And Brock Boeser proved quite a few naysayers wrong with a terrific scoring season despite the midseason loss of Elias Pettersson.
There’s still a lot more hockey on the horizon for the 16 playoff bound clubs, but as four Canadian teams narrows down to one the North Division will take its final bow. All seven teams will go their separate ways back to facing more familiar foes or, in the case of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, one brand new rival in the Pacific Northwest.
This year has been trying for everyone in Canada, which is what the North Division Power Rankings were supposed to remedy; turning a season with no live hockey into something more fun and goofy. I don’t know if I entirely succeeded in those efforts, but hopefully I was able to provide some of you with a laugh here and there during the last four months.
Before we get into the last rankings of the year, I wanted to leave you – and this series – on a positive note. A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to cover my first NHL game as a recipient of The Botchford Project, a journalism mentorship program put on by the Canucks and The Athletic in memory of Jason Botchford. If you’ve read this blog at any point in the last five years, or seen any of the brilliant work being produced by a number of other young hockey media members in this market, you know the impact Botch had on my career path and lots of folks like me.
Getting to be one of a select few in the country who saw live NHL hockey was an experience like no other. Sure, the electricity of a sellout crowd was missing (although Connor McDavid did his best to make up for it on his own), but getting to sit alongside writers and media people I’ve looked up to for years taking in a Canucks game was an incredible experience nonetheless.
From taking in the morning skate to asking Travis Green for a quote to getting 1-on-1 interview time with Tanner Pearson to getting to know my fellow recipients, Arash and Clarissa, all of it reaffirmed that I chose the right path. This is the career I want, and I’m never going to stop working for it.
And this past Monday, as the cherry on top, Canucks.com published my feature on Nils Höglander’s unbelievable rookie season; a moment in my five year journalism career that stands above the rest, and the final product is a story that I couldn’t be more proud of.
Without you guys stopping by each and every week, whether its been to read these power rankings, check out the newest episode of The CreaseCast or read any of the other stories I write, that amazing opportunity never would’ve been possible. And as I left a nearly empty Rogers Arena and stepped out into the rainy Vancouver evening, I knew the real adventure was only just beginning.
For the first time in my life, I was there for closing time. And it was beautiful.
1) Ottawa Senators ⬆️ 2
We didn’t finish last place like everyone expected, and not even our owner’s weird feud with a yacht captain could ruin that!
2) Winnipeg Jets ⬆️ 7
We’re only two games into the playoffs and Connor Hellebuyck already deserves the Conn Smythe Trophy.
3) Toronto Maple Leafs ⬇️ 1
If we finally get through the first round this year, there’s gonna be a damn parade down Yonge Street!
4) Montreal Canadiens ⬆️ 7
Sure we won the first game against Toronto, but unless everyone not named Carey Price starts showing up that’ll probably be our high point.
5) Edmonton Oilers ⬇️ 3
We regret to inform you that Mike Smith has turned back into a pumpkin. We blame those garbage navy jerseys.
6) Calgary Flames ⬇️ 5
Building slow didn’t work. Going all in didn’t work. Changing coaches didn’t work. Pretty sure Brad Treliving’s seat is sitting directly over a volcano right now.
7) Vancouver Canucks ⬇️ 6
Nothing ever changes. Life is meaningless. Eat Arby’s.
Thanks for reading!
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