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Guide to the four realms of NHL divisional play in 2021

Connor McDavid is going to win the Hart Trophy this season.

They literally should just list his name three times as the winner and the finalists. No one else should even be in the conversation. As an example, Matt Larkin of The Hockey News noted that through April 26, the Edmonton Oilers were a plus-88 in scoring chances when McDavid was on the ice at even strength.

Without him? They were a minus-183! That’s ridiculous!

Even with that kind of case, it won’t be a unanimous vote. There’s always a caveat. There’s going to be the Pittsburgh writer who votes for Sidney Crosby, the “Nathan MacKinnon is due” voter who puts the Avalanche center first, and the Boston writer who feels the only way to give the criminally underrated Brad Marchand his due is to criminally overrate him as being more valuable to the Bruins than McDavid is to the Oilers.

But it also won’t be unanimous because there’s this widespread perception that the division in which McDavid plays — for lack of a more nuanced term — absolutely stinks.

Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. The Pacific Division has, in many years, also stunk. But the North Division is different, because McDavid has faced only those teams over and over again in this truncated pandemic season, thanks to intradivisional schedules.

McDavid has racked up a 1.76 points-per-game average against two good teams (Toronto and Winnipeg), two woefully inconsistent teams that fired their coaches (Montreal and Calgary), the worst team in expected goals against per 60 minutes (Vancouver, 3.06) and the second-worst defensive team in the league in goals-against average (Ottawa, 3.47).

Yet we’ll hear praise for Crosby and Marchand despite the fact that they play in a division with three of the four worst teams in goals-against average (Buffalo, New Jersey and Philadelphia).

Is the East worse than the North? And is the North really that bad? With the regular season nearing its finale, we know enough about these divisions to both quantify and define them. We know what they are, and what they aren’t.

Presenting your official guide to the four realms of NHL divisional play this season.

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