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The NHL made waves this week by announcing they will return to play this summer in a 24-team playoff tournament to determine the 2019-2020 Stanley Cup Champion. While some people will grumble that it’s not traditional — you know, the types who haven’t realized we’ve been living out one of Nostradamus’ premonitions — I think most of us can agree this is a step towards normalcy. It’s an odd time, so let’s just enjoy this unique format and make the most of it, shall we?
Using DraftKings’ odds, let’s discuss some of the favorites and longshots who have a chance at contending below.
Tampa Bay Lightning (+650)
Here we go again. Perennially, Tampa enters the playoffs as one of the most talented teams, but also, they’re one of the softest.
They have otherworldly talent in center Steven Stamkos, former Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, defenseman Victor Hedman, and disputably the league’s best goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
While this team lacks grit, I also believe it lacks intangibles, and these are essential in hockey. They don’t seem to have a true leader who can settle the squad down or to whom they can turn when facing adversity. They seem to crumble (see their first-round playoff exit in 2019).
We’ll have to see if they learned anything from last years’ embarrassing early exit. Otherwise, going forward, they should look into changing their lightning insignia to the universal choking sign.
I don’t hate Tampa, truly, but they don’t inspire much postseason confidence. Oh, and they were also one of the two teams to vote “No” regarding this return-to-play format. Just sayin’.
Colorado Avalanche (+900)
If you’re from my era and played hockey growing up, then you’ll remember the Avalanche having one of the coolest Starter jackets out there in the mid-’90s. Not to mention their teams were sick. Fast forward twenty-plus years and the Avs have returned to prominence.
They’re led by center Nathan MacKinnon, who, in my opinion, is the second-best player in the NHL behind Connor McDavid. His combination of speed, strength, and skill is near impossible to defend. His supporting cast of Captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and defenseman Cale Makar — who was obscenely good in his first full season — is pretty solid. They have a strong goaltending tandem in Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer, and Nazem Kadri brings a strong veteran presence with playoff experience and sandpaper to his game.
If you like the Avs, I would pounce on them now before their odds get shorter. They’re no joke.
Dallas Stars (+1400)
People seem to forget that the Stars took the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues to Game 7 in the second round of last year’s playoffs. They play a tight defensive game and have the horses to run and gun offensively if need be.
They’re led by goal scorer Tyler Seguin, Captain Jamie Benn, offensive defenseman John Klingberg, and world-class goaltender Ben Bishop. Their youthful core of Roope Hintz (which sounds like the name on a fake ID) Denis Gurianov, and Miro Heiskanen — who is an unbelievable skater — gives them the depth and energy to succeed in a long grind-em-down defensive series.
Don’t be surprised to see Dallas in the mix, as they’re built to succeed in this type of format.
Edmonton Oilers (+2300)
I feel like I have to mention this team, as the masses will call for my head if I don’t.
Listen, I know Connor McDavid is on this roster and is already on his way to the Hall of Fame. And I know that newly crowned Art Ross Trophy winner, Leon Draisaitl, who put up an absurd 110 points in only 71 games this season, is also on the squad. However, I’m not sure they’re deep enough.
Hockey isn’t like the NBA, where one dude can carry a team to a championship (see: Lebron James). There are more nuances to hockey that make it challenging for a one-man show.
Offensively, they’re great. The aforementioned McDavid and Draisaitl are probably the league’s best tandem, but beyond them, not much stands out. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a great second center, and rookie Kailer Yamamoto gave them an offensive spark after his call-up. That said, trade acquisitions Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou didn’t get enough time to gel prior to the stoppage, so it’s tough to truly gauge their depth.
The defense doesn’t inspire much confidence beyond Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse, and while the goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen is mediocre at best.
While the series length and finer details are still getting smoothed out, we cannot say for certain that Edmonton is built for a deep playoff run. But anytime you have the world’s best player and Leon Draisaitl, anything is possible.
Calgary Flames (+3200)
The Flames had an uneven campaign and didn’t quite meet expectations, but they still finished third in the Pacific Division. They faced some adversity, too, as they lost head coach Bill Peters early in the season.
Their offensive group is super skilled. It’s composed of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and the talented pest himself, Matthew Tkachuk. Their defense is led by the ageless Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin. The goaltending doesn’t wow you on paper, but I’m higher than most on David Rittich, and Cam Talbot is a serviceable backup.
What I like most about this team is not only their offensive skill, but also their grit, which goes a long way in the postseason. Matt Tkachuk is a rat but perfect for playoff hockey, and Milan Lucic is the bogeyman of the league. Oh, and animal Zac Rinaldo lurks in the press box if need be.
Personally, I love Calgary as a longshot and a true contender. Their mix of skill and toughness is perfect for the playoffs, and I will personally be wagering on them myself to win it all.