Hockey is back! Well it comes with some conditions and a lot of things need to go right in order for it to finish but we are getting hockey. This current playoff format is not traditional to say the least. It is going to bring some questionable play, weird matchups but endless possibilities. We get to see what players took this lay-off seriously and dedicated health and staying focused a priority. Coaches had plenty of time to prep for this first round, develop a game plans and ultimately see the best way for his team to succeed. The randomness that comes with this format can allow any team to win and cement themselves in history.
These games will be Played in Canada for good reasons. Their control of Covid is currently way better than the United States, so avoiding the headache is wise. They have also set a date of August 1st for start of hockey is making things feel more real.
Now since Phase two began June 8th, 26 players have tested positive for corona virus and that number is likely to be higher when you read this article. That forces us to remember that real life things are still happening around us while we plan these playoffs. So everything should always be looked at as contingent.
Now let’s get into the fun stuff. We are going to breakdown these first round matchups as well as the 4 teams who secured a bye from elimination. Those teams will play a round robin to decide seeding.
Another thing I would like to look into is the betting angle to these matchups. Sports betting is sweeping the nation as more and more states are legalizing it. Why not try and view some of these games as a possible opportunity to put some extra money in our pockets. We will try to refrain from juicing every game but laying some change here and there could amplify the emotions tied to your favorite series.*
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs(-166) vs #9 Columbus Blue Jackets(+136)
Toronto comes in as a pretty decent favorite laying -166. They average 3.4 goals a game which ranks 3rd In the league. Auston Matthews is in his best year yet with 47 goals and totally goals 80 points this season. He is looking primed and ready to lead the Leafs far into the playoffs. The one thing holding them back is unreliable goaltending. Averaging 3.22 GAA which is 6th worst. Columbus doesn’t come in with any one guy who is a top tier goal scorer like Matthews but as a team they can win. Just last year they swept the President’s Cup Winner for the first time in NHL history. So to come in and underestimate this squad will bring a swift demise to the Leafs. Ultimately I believe the fire power of Toronto should propel the Leafs passed the Blue Jackets. Matthews looks hungry and if he is playing at his best, the Leafs can make light work of the Jackets. I know money is high but lay some change on Toronto. There is a chance Columbus wins but I just feel high on this Leafs Squad
Leafs in 4
#7 New York Islanders (-125) vs #10 Florida Panthers (-102)
This probably won’t be the best matchup we see but it could make for interesting hockey. The Florida Panthers lost 12 of their last 18 games. Pairing that with allowing the 4th Most goals this season, but the Islanders said hold my beer. They lost 11 of their last 13 with a goal differential of -17. Now the best defenseman on the Isles, Adam Pelech will be made available for the playoffs. Huberdeau, Barkon, and Hoffmann are ready to put that defense to the test. Florida put up 231 goals this season which is more than Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis, but the 223 goals against shows the glaring holes in this Panther team. If Florida can come in with a fire, a belief that they have just as good of a chance as anyone else, watch out. It won’t be easy though. It’s basically a pick em but call me crazy but I’m leaning towards Florida. If you want to lay some units on this series, go ahead. I’m gonna watch from a far and see how Florida plays and see if I like them as a long shot.
Florida in 5
#6 Carolina Hurricanes (-136) vs #11 New York Rangers (+112)
The New York Rangers had 2 stories this season. Floating above .500 before the end of January just looking like a middling squad. Then something clicked going 14-7-1 with a stretch where they won 9 of 10. This is also an extremely young team (2nd youngest) and a team who didn’t believe playoffs were attainable at the beginning of the season. Panerin is having a hart trophy kind of season scoring 32 goals and adding 63 assists. Let’s not forget the Rangers swept the Hurricanes this season with a +8 goal differential. The hurricanes have a good problem in choosing which goalie they want to hitch their holes of winning on. Reiner proved this season he can play but Mrazek helped them make it as far as they did last year. They have the playoff experience and in this format, should carry some weight. Playoff hockey is different and maybe that’s why the money is going towards Carolina. I’m not buying that though. The Rangers are gonna come in flying around fast, loose and something to prove. I’m laying money on the Rangers for this series and +4000 looks juicy if you want to believe in pure chaos.
Rangers in 4
#5 Pittsburgh Penquins (-205) vs #12 Montreal Canadians (+166)
The biggest favorite of all the first round matchups, the Penquins have the pedigree, the star power and the coaching that will always make them a team that will compete in the playoffs. To really aid the Pens, they will return Jake Guentzle for the playoff run. The pens didn’t end things well going 3-8 in the last 11 and those three wins were against the worst 3 teams in the league so take it as you will. The Canadians on the other hand were the last team to make the playoffs. So will that news inspire Montreal or will they arrive mentally checked out. The key reason Montreal would win this series is Carey Price. One of the best goalies in the league, Price is more than capable of stealing 3 games from the pens. We have seen an uninspired team of Penquins show up for a crucial game before so there is room for Montreal to get game one. Rumors circulated in June about Price not making the trip but as of now, he has been at practice. No Price, No Chance, would be the motto if Carey doesn’t want to travel. Lay a small number on the pens if you must but I’m gonna enjoy my favorite team and let the stresses that come with that be enough.
Pens in 4
Now let’s take a look at the teams that were blessed with a bye. The format will allow each of these team’s to learn something from everyone that could be crucial in the future. As well as have the chance at the best overall seed. If some upsets happen early, we could see the best teams have an “easier” ride. I’m also going to give it a shot at how I believe they are gonna finish after this round robin as well as show you their odds to win the cup!
4. Philadelphia Flyers (+850)
The hottest team In hockey, they may have been harmed the most by this lay-off. Winning 9 of their last 10 games, they flipped a switch when the calendar turned 2020. They averaged 3.76 goals a game since January 7th which leads the league and pair that with a +34 goal differential. This head coach has shown everyone that he has a locker room full of believers; believing in them selves and the game plan Vigneault put in place. Let’s forget the fact that this is first year with the club. This squad was 50-1 to win the cup October and now get +850. Will they win some games? Absolutely. Will their lack of playoff experience show? Probably. This team can win the cup but I see them more as a good team that takes this experience and uses it as a stepping stone for future success. But not this year.
3. Tampa Bay Lighting (+600)
This may be the hardest team to project their success. If last year told us anything, it’s that the lightning can turn it off and when they do, it’s bad. Led by two absolute studs, Kucherov and Stamkos, the lightning average the most goals a game. They are top 5 in power play goals and power play percentage. Hedman is a force in the Blue line and Vasilevskiy in net. Andrei isn’t exactly having his best season but that is because the bar is so damn high. So the lighting have superior firepower, a stone wall in net and a terror leading the defense. So why feel negative? Maybe we shouldn’t hold last years failures over this team. Maybe the lighting see this as their best opportunity to win and erase the word of “18-19”. I believe we will know within the opening round robin stage which team plans to play. So I would save the bet and go with the wait and see method. But remember this team can win and win big.
2. Washington Capitals (+1000)
A Capitals team who is coming into this playoff with a little less “swagger” than previous years. Yes, the Caps won the Metro title again this year. But this title feels different. The flyers were creeping up, playing elite hockey and were poised to take the division title away. This team is led my Mr. 700, Alexander Ovechkin, so you know the puck is going to find the back of he her. John Carlson stepped up on offensive side and out himself in position to win the Norris Trophy. Offense isn’t the problem with this team though, it’s defense. Holtby isn’t bailing out the team like some of us may remember him. The Caps have a 2.93 GAA this season which is worse than Buffalo. Now knowing that they still finished +24 GD this season. Knowing how hard it is to repeat as Stanley Cup champs, having that monkey off their back could allow for their success to flourish. We have all seen this team flip the switch in the playoffs and make a run. You can get them at +1000 right now and that line looks tempting. Are they really +400 worse than Boston and Tampa? I don’t think so.
1. Boston Bruins (+600)
“The best team in hockey” was thrown around all year with this Bruins squad. They have veteran leadership all over the ice. Will these veterans be helped or hurt with the layoff? On one hand, you could see this older group of guys and know they can take care of their body. Most vets have rigorous and well thought out training schedules. We can also believe that they have already made that mental switch to be ready to play playoff hockey. They should be able to come in and pick these guys up and lead them to a title. Or, they might just come in a little tight and rusty. Maybe they come in and move a little slower. That could cause them to be late to an assignment and the opposing team has a mismatch. Maybe age will make them susceptible to injury. The one thing you can’t dispute is the numbers. Boston has the lowest GAA in the league (2.26). They finished +60 on goal differential, which is best in the league. I’m hey also finished top 3 in every PP/PK there is. +600 is the best odds to win the cup so the return isn’t the best. They will also face the same questions and uncertainties as every other team. I’ll pass on this and believe that best odds rarely wins the cup.
#11 Arizona Coyotes (+125) vs #6 Nashville Predators (-150)
The 11th seeded Coyotes are looking to set the tone for their franchises future with this revised playoffs. Making the trade for #1 overall pick Taylor Hall in December let the NHL know, the Coyotes plan to win this year. At the time of the trade they were 19-12-4 and that was a top 10 record at that time. Sadly the Coyotes went on to go 14-17-4 since then and which was the 5th worst record during that span. So why be hopeful? Well hockey is a tough sport that requires some continuity on the ice and getting two of the best players back will help. All reports have said that Ekman-Larson and Keumper have taken this time to really focus on getting healthy mentally and physically. Keumper respectfully was 3rd in GAA with 2.33. So that means Nashville is going to roll over and cower to Arizona. The Predators expectation early for this season was title or bust as they know their title window is closing fast. This team has the fire power w/ Duchene, Johanason and Foresburg. But those stars have underwhelmed all season. Pekka Rinne has the playoff experience but he has played like a deserving starter as Saros played better than Pekka all season. The Preds scored more goals, had better scoring chances, and pair that will their playoff experience that makes them a favorite on paper. But -150?! Give me Arizona all day and I believe Arizona was gonna win this series before the line fell this hard so take advantage.
Arizona in 4
#5 Edmonton Oilers (-170) vs #12 Chicago Blackhawks (+145)
When you see a favorite like that, you have to ask your self, “why?” Kane and Toews are both only 31. Kane especially has shown his play can play his team some games, even if everyone else is average. Plus we have to remember that playoff experience matters in this format. Playoff hockey is a different level and the ability to make that switch fast will be able to steal a game or two early on. Dominick Kubalik has proven to be the guy these vets can lean on. He lead all rookies with 30 goals this season. But, have you hear of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid? The best 1-2 punch in the league, yeah I said the best. They finished first and second in points, assists , even power play points. Edmonton sports the best power play statically because of these two guys. Don’t forget that if it comes to over time, these two are gonna have more ice to orchestrate a goal. Good luck on a 2v1. One stat did jump out to me though. They finished -13 combined in +/-. So with a total points of 207 combined, they still finished negative? They were 2 of 3 players in the top 30 in points to even finish negative. That tells me that if these two aren’t hitting consistently, Kane and Toews are more than capable of taking advantage. I think Edmonton will win this series but that’s a lot of money to lay. I would rather watch the stars play as a fan and be satisfied with whoever comes out on top.
Edmonton in 5
#7 Vancouver Canucks (-120) vs #10 Minnesota Wild (+100)
Vancouver comes in with the biggest edge in goaltending. Markstrom is a guy who played better than his stats show, even though his .918 SV% and 2.75 GAA which both finish top 10 respectfully. Vancouver has the 4th youngest squad in the league. They finished 8th at 3.25 goals per game. These young guys proved they can catch fire and the fact they are even in the playoffs is a blessing. Meanwhile you look at almost the complete opposite in the Wild. Four of their best scorers are over the age of 35. They play with this old timey grit. Built on sound defense and experience but still ranked 12 in scoring (3.16 goals per game). The best story of this team may be the question in net. Dubnyk came in as the starter but played his way to bench. Mustering up a 3.35 GAA is a sure fire way to lose games, but they leaned into Stalock who has a 2.67 GAA and after the all-star break went 9-3-1. So you have to believe they ride the hot hand but knowing you have that veteran prescience just in case the moment gets too big. Now you can read around and see advanced stats will make it seem like the Wild are better equipped for the playoffs. But I weirdly think these young guys are gonna have some fun and win some games. Now I won’t be laying any money but this will be a series to keep your eye on.
Vancouver in 5
#8 Calgary Flames (-140) vs #9 Winnipeg Jets (+120)
This may be the most evenly matched series in the first round. Winnipeg will be able to hang their hat on their stud between the pipes, Connor Hellebuyck. A .922 SV%, 2.57 GAA and my favorite stat is his league leading 6 shutouts. He is just adding to last years success and proving to the league he is the real deal. Calgary has more of a tandem in young buck Rittich and the vet Talbot. Both weren’t stopping every puck coming their way, they did let in a lot of goals. Maybe it wasn’t all their fault as Calgary didn’t play solid defense in front of these guys. Calgary may have a top level offense but letting in 214 goals in 70 games isn’t a winning formula. So based on that matchup, the jets are due to steal one or two games. Calgary has guys like Tkachuk who are 22 leading the team in points with 61. Gaudreau has been a solid playmaker in years past but this hasn’t been his best season. Lindholm is having a career best scoring year. But I just don’t see this team beating the Jets. Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele lead the Jets with 73 points. Jets are also getting healthy as multiple people are going to be able to compete due to the lay-off. I just think the snipers the Jets have will be too much to handle for this Flames defense. I’m gonna lay some good change on this and honestly gonna plant my flag and say they will be the best team in this first round.
Jets in 5
Now the west has an interesting group of four in the round robin. Dallas is 4th but finished with one point less than Edmonton but because they played one less game, so their percentage was better. Vegas was finishing hot and was looking to make a case for the #1 seed in the west. I think these round robin games will be a bit more entertaining than the East. Because I see some upsets possible in the West, the one seed can possibly play Chicago or Arizona, and I don’t believe anyone wants to play Winnipeg off the bat.
4. Dallas Stars (+1500)
A very confusing team for me personally to project. They finished the year on a 6 game losing streak and were probably going to fall out of the 4th seed in the West. This will hurt them if it comes to tie-breakers in standings as they will go to regular season points to decide. On paper their offense looks dreadful. They scored the 3rd fewest goals this year which is easily the worst of any playoff team. Tyler Sequin is the only player on this team to have more than 40 points, that’s insane. Jamie Benn is having his worst scoring year of his career. Now they did go 6-3-2 against the teams in the round robin but when you look more into it, 4 of those wins were against the Avs. They are 2nd in GA in the league and Ben Bishop has been playing lights out. I just sit and wonder if the Stars come out flat and go down 2 goals early, they are toast because I don’t see them as a team coming back. I think the Stars are a Candidate to lose to whoever they play from the first round.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (+850)
So maybe the script to win a cup is to fire your head coach half way through the season. The 15-16” Pens and last years champion St. Louis Blues both thought a new face to a solid team would take them to the next level. Now when they made this trade, the whole NHL world was shocked. Gallant wasn’t exactly failing miserably, plus he took an expansion team to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first year. But ownership had to believe it was more players than coaching, and maybe they weren’t wrong? Peter DeBoer took the reigns and went 15-5-2 and finishing the regular season on a tear, winning 11 of the last 13 games. A big question will be who the Knights have in net. Like the coaching decision, Fleury may be the most popular Knights player in this early franchise. The flower has played extremely well every time he has been on the ice. This year has shown a dip in his stats with a .905 SV% and 2.77 GAA. They went out and made a trade for Robin Lehner and he did not disappoint. Having a stellar 1.67 GAA and .940 SV%. Sad to say, there could be a repeating story line. If Fleury takes these round robin games and kind of fails. I believe Robin will be the starter and that may be for the best. This lay off has helped a lot of teams out with health and Vegas isn’t going to complain. Getting their two best forwards back, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. They are both 1-2 In most statistical categories for the Knights. I like the Knights, I believe they can win but one thing I’m worried about is no home ice advantage. You can ask any player and they will tell you that the T-Mobile Arena gets wild. They scored 24 more goals at home than on the road and were actually 17-13-4 on the road and 22-11-4 at home. And maybe I’m looking too far into this or finding a reason to dislike this squad. +850 isn’t bad money and for 2nd hottest team coming into this isn’t a bad way to spend your money. Idk if I like them to win it all but I wouldn’t be surprised
2. Colorado Avalanche (+800)
This is a team that is just built almost to like a video game perfection. Nathan MacKinnon is having a career year with 93 points and would of for sure eclipsed the 100 point total on the season if everything finished normally. This Colorado team has some serious scorers leading the the Western Conference in goals. Now to prove they are for real, they pair that with a 2.71 GAA which is 6th best in the NHL. Having Pavel Francouz is a strong reason for that success. Going 21-7-4 this season and a .923 SV%, he is the veteran leadership this team needs. They have the possible rookie of the year on the blue line in Cale Makar. Last year he was ranked the worlds best prospect and he shined with 50 points in 57 games. His blue line mate Samuel Girad is no slouch and we are still waiting on the best prospect in the game currently Bowen Byram. So they have a team that can win now and their stars are all under 25 relatively, so they have future success as well. At +800 this team is a tempting bet to win. My biggest worry is that this could just be a year about getting these young guys experience in the playoffs for their future endeavors. I think I’m gonna lay some units on them and just hope these guys come ready to take the NHL by storm.
1. St. Louis Blues (+1100)
In my opinion, the NHL is the hardest league to repeat as champion. Yes we have seen teams repeat in the past, but with all of the different variables, it just seems as if it should be impossible. With this lay-off, the Blues have a different way of going about these playoffs. For starters they maybe getting the biggest star returning from injury in Vladimir Tarasenko who was a darling in last years cup run. Being down since October, Vlad has ample time for his body to heal and for him to trust the healing process. The physical aspect of his game may not be there but the offensive production shouldn’t fall off. As a team the Blues have 4 players in the top 50 points which is tied for 2nd most by one team. That is a reflection of the purely selfless and team based play associated with this club. Yeah they are physical but they don’t go out of position to punish you. The biggest thing this team can hang it’s hat on is the fact that they finished 7-2-3 against the other round robin teams this season. They have the 3rd ranked PP% and also face the 4th lowest shots per game. That could explain why Binnington is top 5 in a lot of goalie stats. Yes we know it’s hard to repeat but I think you see that reflected in the line of +1100. That’s 7th best on FanDuel. I like the blues to compete and play hard but idk if I can see them cashing in this year but this franchise has no plans of going away.
*All betting lines are from FanDuel Sports Book