Now that it looks likely we are going to have playoff hockey in 2020, it’s time to start looking at the potential matchups and decide where to place our bets.
Last month the NHL decided on scrapping the rest of the regular season for this year and jumping straight into a 24-team playoff format. The top four teams from each conference will play in a round-robin to decide their seeds. The rest of the teams have been seeded and will play in five-game series to advance.
The top teams hailing from the Eastern Conference are the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Philadelphia Flyers. The teams without a first-round bye are the Penguins, Canadiens, Hurricanes, Rangers, Islanders, Panthers, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jackets.
The top four teams from the Western Conference are the reigning champion St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars. The teams that will be playing in the first round are the Oilers, Blackhawks, Predators, Coyotes, Canucks, Wild, Flames, and Jets.
I like the idea of taking the Blackhawks here, at least in the first round. They still have a roster full of threats with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Alex DeBrincat. They have plenty of experience winning playoff games on their roster, and that could pay off in such a unique situation after a long rest.
At +6600, the Blackhawks are tied with the bottom of the pack for odds. This seems like a good spot to at least throw a little bit of money with their playoff experience, rested legs, and a new coach.
A team tied with the Blackhawks at the bottom that I like is the Florida Panthers. Like Chicago, Florida lacks defensive depth but has the chance to make up for it with explosive forwards and a solid goaltender.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, and Aleksander Barkov can get it done on offense against any team in the playoffs. With the help of Sergei Bobrovsky in net, they could just upset some teams early.
Of the top teams in each conference, I like the Lightning out of the East and the Avalanche out of the West. The Lightning finished with the most points last season but were swept in the first round. This season they will most likely get games close to home with Florida opening its doors to games, while other teams will be on the road for the entire playoffs.
The Avalanche have one of the most complete teams in the league and always seem to come up just short when the playoffs roll around. This long break could be just what they need to get their heads straight and use their talented roster to push straight to the Stanley Cup Finals.
While the top teams are great looking and easy to throw money at, I truly believe this unique format and situation will lead to a team without a first-round bye surprising some teams and possibly taking the Cup home.
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