It appears as if we will see a NHL playoffs this year after all! Two hub cities (TBD) will host 24 teams who will compete to see who takes home Lord Stanley’s Trophy this year. Current candidate cities include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles , Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver. Personally I believe Toronto and Vancouver are out due to strict Covid-19 regulations in Canada and there is a potential for Minneapolis to be out given the current climate.
The season is currently in Phase 1 with the shutting down of all NHL operations. Phase 2 will include small training sessions beginning next week. Phase 3 will be somewhere in mid-July (most likely) including full training weeks that will hopefully include at least 2-3 weeks worth of ramping up players and teams abilities in preparation for Phase 4. I am guessing Phase 4, which includes start of playoffs, will occur in early August. The top four teams in each Conference (Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers in the East and St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the West) will receive a bye through the first qualifying round while the remaining eight teams in each conference will battle out to see who advances to the 2nd round. This means that Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks will NOT BE PLAYING AGAIN UNTIL NEXT SEASON (we will return to that point later).
Teams that will benefit from the delay
New York Islanders — They were in a nasty slide shortly before the season was halted being in the midst of a seven game losing streak that had knocked them down beneath the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Due to this slide they will face the Florida Panthers who have a capable playoff coach in Joel Quenneville, a two time Vezina Goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky and a lethal young offense instead of potentially facing the Montreal Canadiens or the New York Rangers who I would have deemed easier opponents for them. During their streak, they lost to the Rangers, Canadiens, Senators and Canucks to name a few, had they continued to lose, they might have faced a formidable Pittsburgh Penguins or Carolina Hurricanes. The stop allowed them to figure out what went wrong, practice and jump into the playoffs with fresh legs.
Arizona Coyotes — They have a chance to snap their seven years without a postseason win, the sixth longest in the NHL currently. They also had a two game losing streak going into the stop giving them time to practice and turn things around. Most importantly, they have a long list of injured players who have now had time to recover including Taylor Hall, Conor Garland, Derek Stepan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun. They face the Predators who were on a three game win streak going into the stoppage and they are clearly not the team they have been in previous seasons. Additionally, Nashville lost five of their first eight games this season on the road so a restart in a foreign arena might take some adjustments from them.
Colorado Avalanche — With a strong likelihood that the Aves will be playing their playoffs in an arena they don’t call home, they must feel quite comfortable in those settings. This season they have a record of 24-13-2 on the road which is considerably better than home where they are 18-16-6. Colorado will have the return of injured Nathan MacKinnon, Andre Burakovsky, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen to help out as well.
Teams that will hurt from the delay
Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers go into the delay having won nine of their last 10 games and then had to sit cold for three months before watching many other teams get to play a handful of games before coming to play Philadelphia. The long break coupled with the bye in the first round will prove to be long. I think the extended break will be tough to quick jump start during a playoff series. Philadelphia went 2-4 to start this year, losing their first three straight games on the road, showing they didn’t come out of the gates quickly. Additionally, many of the Flyers wins have been at home this year, it’s possible that continues but odds would be against it happening.
Vancouver Canucks — Their home record this year is among the best in the league 22-13-4. The 22 wins is actually tied for the fourth most in the NHL. Meanwhile, on the road, the Canucks are 14-20-2, not good. In fact, 14 wins is the seventh fewest in the NHL. Additionally, they have a VERY talented young squad which I would give a benefit to going into the playoffs after a grueling 82 game season; but after a two month break, I give the advantage to a group of veterans who will be healthy and more acclimated with the playoffs.
Winnipeg Jets — They have faired quite well at home this season. They have relatively few injuries in comparison with some of their counterparts. They draw a matchup against the Flames who were allowing a number of goals against while they saw injuries to a majority of their defensemen since January 1st including: Noah Hanifin, Travis Hamonic, Mark Giordano, Erik Gustafsson and T.J. Brodie (most will be healthy for the playoffs). Finally, they had a nice win streak going into the break and will have to start that back up.
Another VERY interesting topic will be the start of the 2020-2021 season. Whether it is in October, November, December or even January, we will have an interesting dynamic where many of the playoff teams will still be in their rhythm and comfort zone being done for just a month or two instead of four to five months. They will also be dealing with the myriad of injuries that come with playoff hockey. Meanwhile, the eight teams who won’t be making the playoffs will have gone from March until almost the end of 2020 without playing. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those teams to go 6-9 months without a game and how they will be difficult to get back into game mode.