William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles former NHL players Anson Carter, Grant Fuhr, Georges Laraque and Eldon "Pokey" Reddick and their picks to win the Scotia North Division, which is made up of the seven teams based in Canada.
Anson Carter, Grant Fuhr, Georges Laraque and Eldon "Pokey" Reddick collectively played for six of the seven teams that comprise the North Division this season.
They're looking forward to watching what Fuhr, a goalie who won the Stanley Cup five times with Edmonton Oilers, calls "good old-fashioned mean hockey," with teams in the division facing each other at least nine times during a condensed 56-game regular season.
"The Battle of Alberta, the Original Six Montreal-Toronto rivalry nine, 10 times?" Fuhr said. "I can't wait."
Laraque said the North will be the best and toughest of the four divisions that were created for this season to limit travel and save on costs.
"That division is going to be so good, so competitive, it's insane," said Laraque, who played 695 NHL games with the Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and Phoenix Coyotes from 1997-2010. "That's going to be the most entertaining division in the NHL by far."
So who are the four former players rooting for to win the North? All professed soft spots for Edmonton.
Fuhr won his rings there playing with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Reddick was integral to the Oilers' Cup championship in 1990, backing up Bill Ranford after Fuhr sustained a season-ending injury.
Carter scored a personal NHL-high 33 goals in 2005-06 playing on a line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin with the Vancouver Canucks, but speaks fondly of his 211 games with the Oilers from 2000-03. And Laraque said he's forever grateful that Edmonton chose him in the second round (No. 31) of the 1995 NHL Draft.
But who they'd like to see win the North and who they actually think will win the division are two different things.
Fuhr and Carter each picked the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fuhr said signing forwards Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton during the offseason added missing grit.
"They're going to need it in an all-Canadian division," said Fuhr, who played 868 NHL games for the Oilers, Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. "Simmonds is going to make a huge difference in that division because he's that physical presence that Toronto hasn't had. Plus he's a skill player, that's the part everybody overlooks. And he's healthy."
Carter, an NBC Sports hockey analyst and veteran of 674 NHL games with the Oilers, Canucks, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, picked Toronto because, "they have the fewest amount of question marks. Plus they're the strongest team down the middle with John Tavares and Auston Matthews."
Laraque chose the Canadiens to win largely because of their goaltending. He said Montreal made one of the most significant offseason additions when it acquired goalie Jake Allen in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 2 to back up Carey Price.
Allen was 12-6-3 in 24 games (21 starts) with the Blues last season. His 2.15 goals-against average was the lowest of his seven-season NHL career, and his .927 save percentage was his best.
He was 2-1-1 with a 1.89 GAA and a .935 save percentage in five postseason games, including starting Games 3, 4 and 5 in place of Jordan Binnington against the Canucks in the Western Conference First Round, which the Blues lost in six games.
"Price hasn't had a backup since Jaroslav Halak, and every year Price has to play too many games," Laraque said. "Price will be able to rest because Jake Allen will be very good as a backup. Price will be rested like he was in the playoffs, and he'll be dominant."
Fuhr, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, has Montreal as his sleeper pick to win the North if Toronto doesn't, "because they have the best goalie in the division," in Price.
Reddick, who played 132 games for the Oilers, Winnipeg Jets (which moved to Arizona and became the Coyotes in 1996) and Florida Panthers, took a diplomatic approach in his Scotia North selection.
"Put it this way, I root for two teams and in no particular order," he said of the Oilers and the current Jets team that relocated from Atlanta in 2011. "As long as one of those two do good, I'm good."
Photo courtesy: Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame