On Tuesday May 26, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced his plan for the NHL to resume play. By the sounds of it, there doesn’t seem to be any puck drop happening until about August. The biggest piece of information from his announcement was the confirmation of the 24-team NHL playoff style.
In this plan, the top four teams from each conference will play a round-robin to determine seeding. As for the 5-12 seeds in each conference, they will be seeded by points percentage based on records when the season paused.
As a disclaimer, I do not think momentum will be a big contributing factor heading into the playoffs. Every team had off, and I believe that guys resting and healing up will play much more of a factor than momentum prior to the season-ending.
Eastern Conference (Bubble City 1):
City 1 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round
- Boston Bruins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Washington Capitals
- Philadelphia Flyers
This will be an interesting round-robin mini-tournament. The Bruins could end up with a four seed, as the Flyers could wind up in the one seed. This style is going to allow these teams to get a “bye,” while also playing meaningful hockey.
Boston seems to be the superior team in this scenario, however, these four teams have beaten each other up all season long. The Flyers have a good chance to move ahead of the Capitals, which they would have likely done if this never happened. At the end of the round-robin, I predict that the Bruins and Lightning will stay in the top two, but the Flyers and Capitals swapping spots. If the NHL keeps this a bracket-style, this would prevent the Flyers from playing the Penguins in the first round as well and would match them up with a much more favorable matchup in either the Hurricanes or Rangers.
City 1 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round (Best of 5)
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
This shouldn’t even have much thought. The Penguins great season hit a rough patch just before the pause as the team struggled to integrate healthy players. However, that’s the key idea- they will be getting their depth players back and fully healthy. Montreal gave up their pursuit of the playoffs and were sellers at the NHL Trade Deadline. They were 10 points behind the second wild-card at the time of the pause and not a competitive team.
Penguins sweep and take this one in three games.
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
Now, this is a really interesting one. Personally, I see the Rangers being a dark horse team in this year’s format. As much as I respect Rod Brindamour and the Hurricanes, the Rangers look like a good hockey team. The Hurricanes made a run at the cup last season and have young talent, but the Rangers look to be good for years to come too. They’ll be getting Chris Kreider back. The Hurricanes even voted against this proposed format, potentially knowing they could face the red hot Rangers.
Rangers take this one in five games.
#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
The Islanders and Panthers faced off three times this season in which the Isles won 3-2 in a shootout, 2-1 and 3-1 in regulation. If the Islanders won all three games against their qualifying round opponent, that should put them in a good position for these playoffs. I would rather the Panthers take this series for the Flyers’ sake, but I think the Isles pull this off and get into the first “real” round of the playoffs.
Islanders in four.
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets
Ah, the good ‘ole eight against nine seed.
The Leafs haven’t won a series since 2004, which was also the last time they entered a series as the higher seed. On the flip side, Columbus has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons but only made it to the second round once (2018-2019). Columbus was actually eighth in the league in points percentage until Seth Jones went down hurt. Once he was out, the Jackets immediately went 1-5-5 without him, sunk in the standings, and were even out of the playoffs altogether at one point.
Now it’s expected that not only Seth Jones will return, but so will Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Texier, and likely Josh Anderson. Even with all those injuries and the mass exodus of talent last summer, Columbus was still hanging in the playoff mix. That’s despite actually leading the league in man-games lost.
Columbus takes this one in four games.
Western Conference (Bubble City 2):
City 2 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round
- St. Louis Blues
- Colorado Avalanche
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Dallas Stars
For the sake of the length of this article, I think that these rankings get all mixed up. The Colorado Avalanche is a high scoring offense that I think ends up with the one seed. Dallas will sneak in and grab the two seed. Followed up by that, St. Louis will sit at third, with Vegas taking the fourth seed.
City 2 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round (Best of 5)
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have the playoff and Stanley Cup experience on their roster, but Edmonton has Connor McDavid. And it doesn’t quite stop there, as they have Leon Draisitl, the (now) official Art Ross Trophy winner with 110 regular-season points. I don’t think the Oilers run away with this, but they do dominate in three of the four games.
Oilers take this in four games.
#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes
This is a weird matchup. I had to do some studying here, as I didn’t realize the Coyotes were as good as they actually are. The fact that the series is best of five provides a very slim margin for error. The Predators, however, have been the textbook definition of error this season due to their lack of consistency. They would need players like Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Kyle Turris to snap out of disappointing offensive seasons immediately. Pekka Rinne could find himself on the bench to start with the late emergence of Juuse Saros. The Coyotes on the other hand sat at 22nd in goals for, but third lowest for goals against.
I could totally see Arizona stealing this series, but they haven’t really proven anything for me to think they really will. Nashville sneaks out of this one in five games.
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild
Quinn Hughes is the big name in this matchup. The rookie led all fellow rookies with 53 points as a defenseman. Alongside him comes more youngsters, with names like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, & captain Bo Horvat.
Nothing about this matchup really screams excitement, but I really like the Canucks chances here. Their top ten scoring offense should be good enough to get by the Wild. Hopefully, this new format could reignite the heated rivalry of these two teams.
#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets
This is another really interesting matchup, which I guess is what you’ll get with two seeds so close. These teams only wound up playing once this season, and that was outdoors in October. Winnipeg took that game 2-1. I don’t have a passionate opinion on this series, but I think Patrick Laine and the Jets can pull this one out over Johnny Hockey and the Flames. They were clicking right before the break, winning five of their last six. Obviously momentum doesn’t matter, but they’ve proven to beat the big dogs of the conference.
Jets take this in four.
The NHL did not officially announce whether the teams would play in a bracket-style or play the traditional high seed plays low seed style. No matter what it ends up being, be sure to stay posted on Philly Sports Network’s Flyers team to see our predictions on this (now very long) road to the Stanley Cup.
Make sure to also check out the video with a much more detailed analysis of my picks: