The 24 NHL teams set to resume play will open up training camps in just a few weeks. COVID-19 permitting, the real games will get underway by the end of July.
There are a lot of moving parts, and things that could change by then, but for now here are a few noteworthy items to consider while deciding which sides you want to be on – in betting or DFS – when hockey returns.
Goaltending Decisions In the West
Goaltending, one way or the other, is always a big storyline come playoff time. For the most part we know which goaltenders we’ll see in July. There are some murky situations really worth paying attention to, though. In particular, I’ll be watching what Edmonton and Nashville do.
Mike Smith is the cagey veteran with playoff experience and he has a longstanding relationship with Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the nod for Game 1 against Chicago, however, I think that’d be a big mistake and play into the Blackhawks’ hands. Mikko Koskinen has been the better goaltender on the year, and the difference in level of play since January 1st is astronomical. Koskinen owns a .938 SV% at 5v5 during that period, good for 6th among 45 eligible goaltenders. Smith recorded a .908 SV% in that game, ranking him 40/45. Chicago can’t defend but they are quite dangerous offensively. I think they have the talent to capitalize and really push the much higher seeded Oilers if the latter makes the mistake of starting Smith. In a BO5 series, even giving Smith one or two games before switching to Koskinen could prove too much to overcome.
The other big decision comes in Nashville. Juuse Saros (.914 SV%) significantly out-performed Pekka Rinne (.895 SV%) this season. Rinne is the one with the reputation, playoff experience, and big money contract, though. If new head coach John Hynes plays into that, he may come to regret it against Arizona. They’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut but they can defend and get good goaltending. Playing Rinne – and giving the Coyotes’ attack some needed help – could put the highly favored Predators in trouble.
Price Montreal’s Path to Victory?
Sticking with the theme of goaltending, it’s worth noting Carey Price sits 12th in 5v5 SV% since the turn of the calendar while both Pittsburgh goaltenders – Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry – rank bottom 10 in that time. I think the Penguins are the better team, and getting everybody healthy will make a big difference, but if you want to throw a dart series bet on a low seed Montreal is not the worst choice.
Are Avs the Team to Beat?
The team I really want a big piece of – in DFS, betting, playoff pools, etc. – is Colorado. They were absolutely hammered with injuries to key players all season long. Even so, just two teams finished with a higher points percentage and nobody posted a better goal differential at 5v5. They showed the depth to overcome key personnel losses and this pause gave a lot of guys much needed time to recover. We could see the Avs at full-strength, or very close to it, and that’s a scary thought given how well they played without many of their top players.
Minnesota’s 5v5 Play Makes Wild a Tough Out
I know Vancouver has the exciting, big names everyone is attracted to but I think Minnesota is a very live dog in that series.
In the 25 games prior to the break, Minnesota was much more effective at 5v5 – where most of every game is played, especially in the playoffs when refs become less trigger happy with penalties. Only four teams controlled a larger share of the scoring chances than the Wild and they posted a rock solid plus-12 goal differential as a result.
During the same period of time, the Canucks’ share of the 5v5 chances placed them 23rd in the league and they came out even in terms of goals.
If you can get the Wild at plus money I’d think long and hard about it. They also strike me as an undervalued team to target in DFS/playoff pools.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com