Just over a week ago, the NHL and NHLPA agreed on a 24 team playoff format after play resumes. Again, this is all dependent on the safety of players and staff during the phasing in return-to-play plan. If sports to some capacity could return, it could mean a dose of normalcy in very turbulent times. At the moment, only four teams from each conference would be locked into a secure playoff position. Eight other teams in each conference will face off in a play-in series to advance into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference, the highest-seeded team is the Boston Bruins. Following them in the round-robin format of the top four teams in the conference are the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals, and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Eight other teams will be scrapping for a secure playoff position. This means that the winner of these play-in series will be paired against the rearranged seeding of the round-robin teams. To simplify, let’s discuss who are those eight other teams in the Eastern Conference. Those teams are the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens.
In the play-in round, the matchups are the Penguins versus Canadiens, Hurricanes versus Rangers, Islanders versus Panthers, and Maple Leafs versus Blue Jackets. Depending on how the round-robin tournament shakes the seeding, the winners of those play-in series will advance to face the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, or Flyers. Once the play-in round has concluded, the Stanley Cup playoffs will be widdled down to eight teams to represent each conference.
The top seed in the Western Conference before the round-robin play begins is the St. Louis Blues. Flanking them in the round-robin format are the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars.
The eight other teams in the play-in round in Western Conference are the Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes, and Chicago Blackhawks. At the release of the 24-team playoff format, the play-in series matchups are the Oilers versus Blackhawks, Predators versus Coyotes, Canucks versus Wild, and Flames versus Jets.
Round Robin Predictions
What works for the teams that are in the round-robin format is those teams play the toughest teams available in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs instead of waiting around on a bye. This theory provides that all teams will be in “hockey condition” once the 24-team format is rounded down to sixteen.
In the Eastern Conference, my prediction to come out of the round-robin with the top seed is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Each team in this round-robin has a pretty good track record against each other except for one team. The Boston Bruins, pre-seeded at number one based off points percentage, has not been impressive against their round-robin opponents. If I were to re-seed the Eastern Conference round-robin teams as a prediction, my order would be the Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Boston Bruins.
In the Western Conference, I predict the St. Louis Blues will keep the top seed. They seem to have their work cut out for them against the Vegas Golden Knights, but I do believe it comes down to goaltending in the west. Jordan Binnington has been remarkable. To me, the west looks like this after re-seeding: Blues, Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, and Colorado Avalanche.
In each conference, there are four play-in series for the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. These games will all be decided in a best of five series.
Beginning in the Eastern Conference, I believe the Pittsburgh Penguins will advance past the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2. In the New York Rangers series against the Carolina Hurricanes, I have the Rangers sweeping. Just like their other New York counterparts, I have the New York Islanders advancing against the Florida Panthers, but 3-1. Finally, I predict the Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2. Two of these play-in series in the Eastern Conference have the distinct possibility of going through all five games.
In the Western Conference, I’ll start with the Chicago Blackhawks controlling the Edmonton Oilers, 3-1. Then the Nashville Predators will edge the Arizona Coyotes in a 3-2 series. In another close series, I believe the Minnesota Wild will just skate by the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2. Finally, the Winnipeg Jets advance past the Calgary Flames, 3-1. No predictions of a series sweep in the west.
Coming soon, I will be continuing my predictions based off of this article for the sixteen teams advancing in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Please, continue to be safe. Do your due diligence as human beings and practice compassion without compromise.
Mandatory Credit – © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports