Which teams could be hurt most by 2020-21 NHL division alignment?
On Monday we looked at the teams that could benefit the most from the temporary division alignment for the 2020-21 NHL season.
Now we take a look at the teams that are on the opposite side of that.
Buffalo Sabres (East Division)
The Sabres enter the 2020-21 season riding a nine year playoff drought, and it is going to take a herculean effort from this roster to keep that drought from hitting a decade.
There is some reason for optimism, yes. Jack Eichel is great, and they had a nice offseason on paper that saw them add Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, and Cody Eakin to the roster to improve their depth.
The problem? Their goaltending is still a huge weakness and the temporary realignment of the divisions put them into what is almost certainly the toughest of the four groupings. All they have to do to make the playoffs this season is finish with a better record than four of these teams: Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals.
While playing a 56-game schedule against only those teams. That group includes four of the top-seven teams in the NHL from a year ago, and five of the top 11 teams. The Sabres record against the teams in their new division during the 2019-20 season: Only 6-9-1. Not great.
No matter the division the Sabres were always going to be facing an uphill battle this season when it came to ending their playoff drought. But this assignment makes it just that much tougher.
[Related: Teams that could benefit most from 2020-21 NHL division alignment]
New Jersey Devils (East Division)
Like the Sabres, this is a team desperate to make the playoffs that is just stuck in absolute nightmare of a division.
Corey Crawford and MacKenzie Blackwood should be an outstanding goalie duo, but will it be enough to carry the team through that schedule and put them ahead of four of those teams?
Even in the Metropolitan Division the Devils were going to be a long shot to make the playoffs. But trading Carolina for Boston and the divisional playoff format is not doing the Devils any favors.
Vegas Golden Knights (West Division)
A year ago Vegas was in a division where only one other team finished within eight points of them and finished with a record among the league’s top-17 teams (that one team was Edmonton). They were by far the best team in the division, the runaway favorites, and would still be the same in a normal alignment.
[Related: Plans for NHL 56-game NHL season]
But this season? They get moved into a division that has the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, two of the top-three teams in the league standings a year ago and two legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Vegas not only faces the possibility of finishing in second or third place in the division, but also potentially having to get through two of the league’s top teams in the first rounds just to get to the semifinals. Quite the challenge.
The Golden Knights are good enough to get through that, but a big part of being a Stanley Cup team is getting a lot of luck along the way. Getting the right matchups in the playoffs is part of that luck.