We can all take a deep breath as the news was finally released from Commissioner Gary Bettman on May 26th that we will in fact have playoff hockey this season. The NHL has decided to scrap the rest of the regular season and head straight into a unique 24-team playoff system. The top four teams will get a bye for the play-in round while the rest will face-off in five-game series to determine the top 16 teams of the league.
These games will be played in hub cities, allowing games but no fans. The top 12 teams from each conference were invited to these playoffs, and the top four teams from each conference will play in a round-robin to determine the top four seedings.
This is good news for a couple of reasons. One, this will allow the top teams to play meaningful hockey before being dropped straight into the official first-round of the playoffs. Two, this will give teams that were second or third in their conference a chance to still secure the top seed.
The top teams hailing from the Eastern Conference are the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Philadelphia Flyers. The teams without a first 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, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars. The teams that will play in the first round are the Oilers, Blackhawks, Predators, Coyotes, Canucks, Wild, Flames, and Jets.
From a betting perspective, this opens up a ton of doors that would normally seem almost impossible. The teams that barely made these playoffs still have a chance against the top teams in the league.
While they have to survive a best of 5 series of brutal playoff hockey before even reaching the true “first” round, this will give the lower teams a chance to get back into the flow of full-speed hockey. Even though teams with a bye for the play-in round have more time off, it may actually be in teams’ best interest to get back into the swing of things and on the ice as soon as possible.
One of my dark horse teams to watch out for in these playoffs is the Chicago Blackhawks. It was not that long ago that they were the most feared team in the NHL. They are now back in the playoffs with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and a well-rested Crawford in net.
They also have some young talent surrounding those vets in Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat. If Chicago can find a way to play solid defensively in front of Crawford and give these stars a chance to steal the show, they could be in the Stanley Cup Finals once again.
I like their odds in these playoffs to take a team out of the first round and keep riding the momentum from there. Even with the round-robin, I think the top seeds could be at a slight disadvantage and a lower team could hit the playoffs running and send them home before they even finish unpacking.
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