The NHL shut down in March and much was in doubt as to the resumption of the 2019-20 season. Honestly, the thought process at first was see you for the 2020-21 campaign. However, Gary Bettman and the league had other plans.
Though this is still not etched in stone, a 24-team battle for the Stanley Cup should commence around the last week of July or first week of August.
There is no question that the eight teams which get a bye should have an easier road in these playoffs. However, with a new format the unexpected could always occur.
Here are a few of our picks – a favorite and perhaps one or two longshots or dark horses to consider.
The Favorite – Boston Bruins (+650)
Why? They were the best team all year before the pause. Some have argued that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s hot streak before the outbreak may have supplanted them. On the other hand, Boston showed a consistency all year that Tampa did not. The Bruins amassed 100 points in 70 games with 44 wins. They were eight point clear of the Lightning as well.
This was a team that featured arguably the best goaltending duo in the NHL with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Boston led the league in goal differential at +53 while yielding a league-low 174 goals. Their team features the top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron which arguably is one of the most feared trios in the NHL.
Their middle-six balance and rearguards are also attractive to bettors as well. These are headlined by Torey Krug, who had nine points in his final 12 games before the pause. Finally, Boston came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup last season (had the final game on home ice). They enjoy the experience of having unfinished business along with being there before.
A “Long Shot” – Dallas Stars (+1700)
The question is should they be more of a favorite. Despite giving St. Louis their toughest series on the way to the 2019 Stanley Cup championship, Dallas is listed eighth in the futures at a rather valuable +1700. Most places are in the +1400 to +1500 range. Still, there are teams like the Philadelphia Flyers who have better odds.
Dallas has been steadfast on defense and goaltending once again this year while yielding just 177 goals (second lowest in the NHL). Their offense began to improve after the All-Star Break which had fans and some pundits optimistic. Then, the pandemic hit.
Dallas can play playoff hockey and a style that survive a long layoff better than most teams. Their versatility will be aided by being one of the top four teams in the West. Ben Bishop, Tyler Seguin, and company will be allowed a few games to get tuned up after the “training camp”. That should be a scary prospect for any team facing the Stars in this incarnation of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Combined with timely goal scoring, Ben Bishop, and Anton Khudobin (likely the second-best goaltending duo in the NHL) and there are enough reasons to get behind Dallas as a value pick.
The Dark Horse – Columbus Blue Jackets (+6500)
This seems out of the blue, but Columbus has shown an ability with its young goalies to battle no matter how outmatched they appear to be. They did not expect to be in the playoff hunt at the start of the season. Consider the departures of Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel for a second. The first two alone might have jolted any team but not Columbus.
They are a dangerous team because of their young goaltending – Elvis Merzilikins and Joonas Korpisalo. Those two players kept Columbus in many games the Blue Jackets had no business of winning. Columbus has allowed just 187 goals on the year (tied for 3rd best in the NHL). If anyone had guessed this at the start of the campaign, I want their Stanley Cup picks now and a lottery ticket.
All kidding aside, the only question and the nagging one will be offense. Can Columbus capture lightning in a bottle this go-around? No one knows the answer truthfully. However, with John Tortorella coaching, a healthy at last Columbus squad, and goaltending that knows no fear – the Blue Jackets will be a dangerous out in this playoff format.