The NHL seems near a return (July?), and Todd Cordell goes over the proposed format to crown a Stanley Cup Champion in 2020.
The NHL and NHLPA recently agreed on a return-to-play plan that would dive straight into a 24-team playoff when hockey resumes in July (COVID permitting).
The top four seeds in each conference would get a bye – which will likely result in playing a few games against one another to a) kick off the rust and; b) open the door to move up a seed or two – while the rest would square off in best-of-five series to earn a spot in the final 16.
Matchups would be as follows:
Pittsburgh (5) vs Montreal (12) – winner gets Philadelphia (4)
Carolina (6) vs New York Rangers (11) – winner gets Washington (3)
New York Islanders (7) vs Florida (10) – winner gets Tampa Bay (2)
Toronto (8) vs Columbus (9) – winner gets Boston (1)
Edmonton (5) vs Chicago (12) – winner gets Dallas (4)
Nashville (6) vs Arizona (11) – winner gets Vegas (3)
Vancouver (7) vs Minnesota (10) – winner gets Colorado (2)
Calgary (8) vs Winnipeg (9) – winner gets St. Louis (1)
I will go more in-depth on potential mismatches, picks, etc. when everything becomes official and we’re closer to puck drop. For now, though, I’ll share some thoughts and potential strategies we can use when hockey returns.
- Be wary of teams on bye. That’s not to say that you should blindly be picking against them; they’re getting a free pass for a reason. I’m just saying a potential round robin scenario where they only play three games puts them at a disadvantage when considering most other teams will be locked into series that go four or five. Those games will also be more intense – there is a lot more on the line – so they’ll have had more time to shake off the rust in real situations. After such a long period off, a couple extra games could really make a difference.
- Be more bold with upset picks. Obviously you don’t want to pick Team X over Team Y as a value just because they’re the lower seed. But if you believe a team has a better chance than the markets (or friends you do pools/make bets with), don’t be afraid to take a stand. Hockey has a lot more variance than a sport like basketball to begin with. That’s why the higher seed – particularly when there is a large gap – almost *always* wins in the NBA. That’s not the case in hockey, and the shortened series will only add fuel to the fire that is variance.
Take the Nashville vs Arizona series, for example. Nashville has a more talented roster with name brand stars (Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, etc.). Arizona appears to have a *big* goaltending advantage, though. If Darcy Kuemper (.928 SV%) – who likely would have been a Vezina candidate if not for injury – can clearly outplay Pekka Rinne (.895 SV%) in, say, two games, then all the Coyotes need to do is take care of business in one of the other three games. They don’t even have to be the better team to do that; an extra bounce or two going their way in one game gives them the series.
If you see some outrageous series prices, be even more aggressive with them than you would be under normal circumstances. Fewer games = more variance, which makes higher seeds (and ‘better teams’) more susceptible to being beaten.
- Don’t forget about injuries. It really is imperative that you factor them into your outlook when evaluating a team or series. The Pittsburgh Penguins will likely be sizable favorites and there still may end up being value on them. Why? They’re a 5 seed. 5 seeds are beatable, right? Sure; especially in a shorter series. But make sure you keep in mind they’re a 5 seed despite Evgeni Malkin missing 14 games, Patric Hornqvist missing 17, Sidney Crosby missing 28, Jake Guentzel missing 30, Brian Dumoulin missing 41, etc, etc. They surely could have picked up a few more points over 69 games and gotten a bye with better health.
Injuries may play even more of a role when looking at a closer series like Toronto and Columbus. I think the Maple Leafs have a higher ceiling as a team, and should be favored, but the Blue Jackets matched them in points despite a Pittsburgh-like stream of injuries. Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson and Seth Jones, among others, all missed significant periods of time with injuries. And it’s very possible all will be playing come July.
As much as I like the Leafs, if they open as big favorites I’d be very tempted to pull the trigger on an underrated Blue Jackets team returning to full health; particularly in a shorter series where there is no home-ice advantage for higher seeds.
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