Finally, after months of uncertainty, hockey is back â€“ sort of.
It’s been 121 days since the last NHL game took place, with many questioning whether or not it was worth the inherent health risks to resume the NHL season. Back in May, Gary Bettman announced the Return to Play Plan, with a mid-July start date for training camp. Yesterday, teams met up for the first time to practice as a full group, helping the league inch closer to game action â€“ even though no official return date has been announced.
The downtime has given fans and teams alike many months to ponder how the new playoff format will unravel. Instead of the traditional eight-teams-per-conference, 16-team format weâ€™re used to, each conference will send 12 teams for 24 total, with 16 of the clubs playing in a last-ditch play-in tournament to see which eight clubs will advance. From there, theyâ€™ll join the eight that earned an automatic bye for finishing in the top four of their respective conference, rounding out the group of 16 moving forward â€“ just like weâ€™re used to.
Itâ€™s a different format, but now more teams have a realistic shot of winning the Cup than ever before. Like it or not, itâ€™s what weâ€™re stuck with, and we might as well embrace the chaos. The season will be unlike any other, and weâ€™re not even sure when the playoffs will end â€“ if at all.
At the very least, we know which 12 teams from the Eastern Conference will mount charges toward Lord Stanleyâ€™s mug, all with an equal opportunity to win the title in a unique situation. Hereâ€™s a breakdown of each club and the biggest storylines surrounding their playoff appearances:
From day one, the Bruins have been the team to beat out of the East. The roster didnâ€™t see much change from the one that forced Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, and a 20-3-5 record to kick things off this season left little doubt in Boston’s chances. Follow that up with a 16-4-0 record to finish off the regular season and there simply wasn’t a time where the Bruins werenâ€™t on the top of the hockey world. As the only club to hit the 100-point mark, with a 22-4-9 home record to boot, the Bruins â€“ who will enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs â€“ had everything going for them.
In fact, things look even better this season. A healthy David Pastrnak brought the team to new levels, recording a career-high 48 goals and 95 points to finish third behind Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Brad Marchand once again showed his strength with an 87-point season. In net, Tuukka Rask’s .941 save percentage at even strength and 19.69 goals-saved-above-average were tops among all starting goalies during the regular season, suggesting that Rask has done his fair share of saving games for the Bruins when needed and positioned himself as a strong contender for the Vezina Trophy.Â
But can the Bruins rely enough on their big stars to steer the team? Outside of Boston’s big three of Pastrnak, Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, no other player hit the 20-goal mark, while just three skaters â€“ Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle and David Krejci â€“ had more than 10 goals. When the top line has been kept off the scoresheet, the Bruins have struggled to find the back of the net as a group. Depth scoring was a strength for the Bruins during the team’s playoff run a year ago, with only defenseman John Moore failing to record a goal in the post-season. Similar results will be needed if the Bruins hope to avoid an early exit.
If weâ€™ve learned about anything about the Bruins, itâ€™s that they know how to rise to the occasion. Bostonâ€™s top line was by far the best in the NHL and, if they get going at full speed â€“ for a post-season that could include yet another first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs â€“ theyâ€™ll be unstoppable. But here’s a big question: do you believe in the Presidentâ€™s Trophy curse?
Stanley Cup Odds: +600
Tampa Bay Lightning
Have the Bolts put their 2019 playoff collapse behind them? The Lightning posted a near-historic season with 62 wins and 128 points last year, before suffering a first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. To combat the residual embarrassment, the club rebounded with a strong 92-point campaign to finish second in the Atlantic Division. Even though the pressure may have been on to bounce back in a triumphant manner, the hope is that the club learned from their choke job. There’s too much skill in the lineup to fall flat on their face once again.
The Lightning will return with a healthy roster after Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman healed up from late-season injuries and, if Nikita Kucherov hits the ground running to continue a run that saw him record 36 points in his last 24 games, there wonâ€™t be much to worry about. Kucherov couldnâ€™t capitalize on that incredible 128-point regular season – finishing with just two assists in the post-season – while Steve Stamkos, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson combined for only two goals and four points.
On a brighter note this season, Andrei Vasilevskiy was once again one of the best goalies in the NHL, keeping the Lightning in games they had no business winning during some of their tougher stretches. If Tampa Bay can get everything running as expected, the club is as deep as they come and should have no issue advancing late in the running. But as we know, thatâ€™s easier said than done.
From December 23rd through February 17th, the Lightning were the hottest team on the scene with a 23-2-1 record, but they fell flat with a 3-6-1 record to close out the regular season. Injuries to Stamkos and Hedman left the team shorthanded and, while Tampa has the depth on paper to make up for it, you have to do better than that to be a true Stanley Cup champion. Betting on the Lightning should pay off if everything clicks, though if last yearâ€™s disaster still haunts you, consider picking the Bruins instead. That is, of course, unless you believe the lessened pressure of not having to live up to No. 1 seed expectations helps Tampa in this case. If history suggests anything, thatâ€™s a possibility you need to take seriously.
Stanley Cup Odds: +600
The shutdown couldnâ€™t have come at a worse time for the Flyers, who went 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, notching just two fewer points (at 28) than the Colorado Avalanche for the league-lead in points after February 1st. The Flyers seemed to rally on behalf of sidelined winger Oskar Lindblom, who had to sit out the second half of the season with a cancer diagnosis, making it suddenly easy to root for a team with one of the nastiest reputations in the league.
Scoring depth was the name of the game for the Flyers, with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny each netting 18 points in as many games, while nine others recorded at least half a point-per-game following February 1st. When your top four centers each have at least 13 points in 18 games, that’s a good sign. Goaltending was an issue early in the season, with both Carter Hart and Brian Elliott putting up average stats and struggling to find any momentum. But Hart drastically picked up his game near the end of the regular season, finishing with a .944 SV at even strength (fourth among goalies with at least 10 starts after Feb. 1) and a 6.35 GSAA (seventh). Hart is just a sophomore but heâ€™s no stranger to big games, with a gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championship and silver at the 2019 World Hockey Championship, among other team awards. But is that enough to prepare him for the challenge ahead?
The Flyers will get a nice boost with the return of forward James Van Riemsdyk plus defensemen Samuel Morin and Philippe Myers. Lindblom and Nolan Patrick – who has suffered from migraines – are still expected to miss out on the playoffs but, if the Flyers proved anything this season, itâ€™s that the club has enough depth to make things work. They don’t have a superstar like most of the other top teams in the Eastern Conference but they do have the chemistry, the depth, and a reason to rally together. They are, of course, facing the challenge of beating a host of the leagueâ€™s top outfits. Itâ€™ll be tough to regain their lost momentum after this time off, but that will make all the difference between a surprise Stanley Cup run and a mid-summer trip to the golf course.
Stanley Cup Odds +1000
Few teams worked harder than the Penguins to secure a spot in the play-in round, or what would have been a normal playoff appearance otherwise. Pittsburgh never had a full, healthy lineup at any point this season, losing one key player after another to rank near the top among man-games lost. By the time the season resumes, Nick Bjugstad, Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon should all be back in action. But most importantly, the club will have first-line winger Jake Guentzel returning, who was on pace for around 90 points before requiring shoulder surgery in late December.Â
If weâ€™ve learned anything this season, itâ€™s that the Penguins can rally back from almost any deficit. The fact that the Pens were just three points behind Philadelphia in fourth place – the final spot that gets to avoid the play-in round – shows the club canâ€™t be messed with. With most of the main core from their 2017 championship run still around, this Pittsburgh squad is banking on the concept that experience matters. That doesnâ€™t mean there arenâ€™t questions, though.
For instance, which goalie will secure the starting role when it matters? Tristan Jarry had a fantastic rebirth after being demoted to the AHL last year in favor of Casey DeSmith, but heâ€™s still quite fresh to take on the task of leading a team deep into the post-season. Among goalies with at least 30 games played, Jarry’s .927 save percentage and 6.44 GSAA at five-a side hockey made him a top 10 goaltender in the league, but most of the names ahead of him had a heavier workload this season, and there’s still an air of mystery surrounding whether or not heâ€™s capable of leading the team throughout the playoffs. Matt Murray, on the other hand, was one of the worst goaltenders statistically this season but, with two Stanley Cups in his short career, he tends to show up when heâ€™s most needed. Do the Penguins risk sitting the hot-hand to rely on experience? Thatâ€™s their biggest roster question heading into the post-season.
A major positive this season was the tremendous play of Evgeni Malkin while Sidney Crosby was out of commission. In the 28-game span from November 10th through January 12th, Malkin led the way for the battered birds with 41 points, keeping the Penguins in the hunt and giving them a shot at a top seed in the Eastern Conference. Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel had over a point-per-game each during that span, while another four players â€“ including rookie defensemen John Marino â€“ had at least 15 points and 11 others posted at least 10. Further injuries hampered the Penguins at times but the club proved its important players were capable of rising in the face of defeat, something that needs to be perfected heading into what should be a grueling and unusual post-season for the club.
Like Tampa Bay, the Penguins have the skill to get the job done. They just need everything to fall their way. Drawing Montreal as a first-round opponent sounds dandy on paper but Pittsburgh holds just a 1-1-1 record against the Habs with a positive goal-differential of 8-7. Nothing is set in stone but, with a healthy and rested group, Crosby, Malkin and company should be seen as an underdog contender. Never, ever underestimate Crosbyâ€™s abilities in big-game situations.
Stanley Cup Odds: +1200
The Capitals might be close to the end of an era as one of the leagueâ€™s top clubs, but thatâ€™s not to say 2019-20 was anything short of spectacular. Alex Ovechkin had yet another monstrous goal-scoring campaign with a co-league-leading 48 (tied with Pastrnak). Meanwhile, John Carlson’s 75 points made him the favorite for the Norris Trophy and the club already had an abundance of secondary offense to choose from, only to add extra strength in the form of Ilya Kovalchuk at the deadline.Â
The biggest question, however, is between the pipes. Braden Holtby – a pending UFA – has been one of the worst goalies in the advanced stats department with a minus-14.70 GSAA (ranking 52nd out of 54 goalies with at least 20 games played) and a .905 save percentage at full-strength (ranking 49th). Rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov, on the other hand, finished with a 3.95 GSAA (21st) and .927 save percentage (ninth), albeit in 22 fewer games. Ideally, the Capitals would ride the experienced Holtby, who was instrumental in Washington’s Cup title two seasons ago, but he’s thus far shown he’s nowhere near the level needed to steal games for the Capitals.
Do the Caps ride the veteran and hope he finds his form, or will Samsonov have a chance to prove he’s capable of the starting gig next season with a playoff run of his own? Compared to Tampa Bay and Boston, who have two of the best goaltenders in the NHL in Vasilevskiy and Rask respectively, this is what bumps Washington down a peg.
Outside of the lowly Detroit Red Wings, the Capitals were the worst team in the final month and a half with a 6-8-3 record â€“ good enough for just 15 points. Washington went from a Stanley Cup favorite to questionable at best in a matter of weeks, causing many NHL observers to get concerned down the stretch. The Caps could be a good mid-tier bet because of this, especially since we know how good the team can be at full strength and itâ€™s been too long to worry about a late-season slump, but which version of the Capitals will we see come crunch time?
Stanley Cup Odds: +1200
Toronto Maple Leafs
The good news: they donâ€™t have to worry about the Boston Bruins. The bad news? That could very well change if they tackle the Columbus Blue Jackets in the play-in round. But hey, no pressure or anything.
The Leafsâ€™ season has been a mixed bag of sorts. On one hand, Auston Matthews’ 47-goal, 80-point campaign helped establish him as one of the best goal-scoring centermen in the NHL, while Mitch Marner and John Tavares had fantastic outings despite injuries hampering their total games played, and William Nylander was on pace for 69 points after a rough contract-shortened 2018-19 season. On the flip side, Mike Babcock – the man tasked with leading the Leafs to a Stanley Cup in signing a massive eight-year, $50 million contract in 2015 – was let go after locker room discord and on-ice inconsistency plagued the team throughout the season. An eighth-place finish in the standings is far from what Toronto projected for the season, especially since they equaled play-in opponents Columbus with 81 points for that spot despite the Blue Jackets fostering one of the most battered lineups in the league. Under normal circumstances, the Leafs were hanging on for dear life.
So what does Sheldon Keefe have in store as a rookie coach heading into the post-season? Fortunately, a lot. Forward Ilya Mikheyev and defenseman Jake Muzzin are expected to return to the lineup after lengthy absences and, while Andreas Johnsson hasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury, his six-month recovery timeline means he could be available by mid-August – right around the start of the playoffs. When the Leafs have had their core together, they have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, though staying healthy has been a challenge.
The Leafs have as much motivation to win as any other club: no championship since 1967, continuous recent playoff exits at the hands of the Bruins, and no playoff series victories since 2004. That’s why Toronto needs to be perfect from the opening stages. The Blue Jackets are no slouches and it’s only going to get harder after that. Frederik Andersen has been spectacular in the post-season in the past, and has genuinely given the Leafs more chances to win than any other player on the roster. That should remain the case this year, but that just means the Leafs need to get a full and complete effort all around.
Keefe won the Calder Cup two years ago. Now it’s time for him to kick it up a notch.
Stanley Cup Odds: +1800
New York Rangers
While The Flyers may have been the team most hurt by the shutdown, the Rangers could be the team that benefits most from it. From February 1st until March 12th, the Rangers had the third-most points in the Eastern Conference over their 21-game stretch, trailing the Flyers and Bruins by just one point for first place – with both those teams, it should be noted, playing three fewer games. During this impressive run, Mika Zibanejad led the league with 33 points and Artemi Panarin finished close behind with 25 (fourth-most in the league).
The emergence of Igor Shestyorkin in net made New Yorkâ€™s goaltending situation a bit trickier. Instead of trading Alexandar Georgiev at the trade deadline, the Rangers elected to go with a three-headed goalie situation that rarely works in a team’s favor. Against the odds, though, that’s exactly what happened. Shestyorkin had a 7-1-0 record down the stretch before a car accident put him out of action to finish the season, giving him a 10-2-0 record to open up his career. That wouldn’t have been necessary had 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist performed at a higher standard, which was simply unrealistic given his age. Statistically, a healthy Shestyorkin deserves the starting role when play resumes, but do the Rangers go back to Lundqvist and rely on his experience to lead the way? Bet on the former because – while Shestyorkin doesn’t have an NHL playoff game under his belt – he has a KHL championship (plus an all-time 88-19-15 record in that league) and a host of international medals to his credit already. Simply put, Shestyorkin can handle the pressure. You canâ€™t forget that he has only ten season losses in 65 NHL/AHL/KHL regular-season games over the past two years, with a 115-25-20 record all-time across the three leagues, so he knows a thing or two about winning.
Having two top-10 forwards in the NHL is a huge bonus for a team trying to escape a rebuild, and adding Artemi Panarin and his 95 points this season was one of the best off-season acquisitions the Rangers have made in decades. Their secondary-scoring depth has been impressive, with seven players (including defensemen Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox) finishing with at least 42 points. After that, some of the younger names the team expected big results out of – Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov â€“ have fallen flat on the scoresheet. The latter two were loaned out to Europe early in the season, with Kravtsov returning to the AHL mid-way through the campaign. As the team struggled to win games between the pipes before the emergence of Shestyorkin, the Rangers put a major focus on run-and-gunning their way to victories. As long as their depth shows up, the team should be fine.
The Rangers finished fourth in the league with 234 goals, but their 222 goals against was good for the sixth most. Having a young defensive group has come with its challenges – Marc Staal is barely the player he once was and Brendan Smith filled in as a forward for a majority of the season – but good showings out of Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba have given fans hope. If the Rangers can clear things up in their own zone and get a hot run out of Shestyorkin, they could be in for a long and surprising playoff run.
Stanley Cup Odds: +4000
It was hard to escape Cane Fever in 2018-19. The Bunch of Jerks brought joy to their fanbase with legendary post-game celebrations, using the excitement and momentum to earn a playoff berth for just the first time since 2008-09, and the second time since taking home Lord Stanley in 2006. In fact, with five total playoff appearances earned throughout the 17-season history of the franchise in Raleigh, the club has made it at least as far as the conference final in four of those attempts. In last season’s playoffs, after knocking off the defending Cup champions from Washington in seven games before sweeping the New York Islanders, the Hurricanes had momentum on their side. They were ultimately swept by Boston due to goaltending injuries and a lack of depth, but it was the start of something special for a young squad with significant potential.
Overall, 2019-20 has been a success. The Canes have arguably had one of the best defense corps’ in the league and, getting Dougie Hamilton (who was having a Norris Trophy-caliber season before suffering a lower-body injury) and Sami Vatanen (who hadn’t dressed for a game following a trade deadline move from New Jersey due to a LBI himself) back, only helps strengthen that notion. Despite having some of the best depth in the league on the blue line, itâ€™s still a new look for the club that didnâ€™t get much playing time as a full unit before the shutdown. Brady Skjei has just seven games under his belt in red and white, and the pairings were shuffled around a bit to make up for the lost men. If the group can gel as a full unit in time for the play-in round, the Hurricanes should look good on the back end.
Up front, scoring hasn’t been an issue this season. The Hurricanes’ 222 goals put them ninth in the Eastern Conference, with 2-3 fewer games played than most of the league (the club was on pace to finish around 5-6th). Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov have been the leaders with 66, 63 and 61 points respectively, while youngsters Martin Necas and Warren Foegele have added extra depth to the scoresheet. But do they have enough of it to spark another long playoff run? Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel have disappointed with 29 points apiece, despite receiving significant opportunities in the lineup. Aho, Teravainen, and Svechnikov struggled mightily in the first round last year and, with a best-of-five situation against one of the top offensive teams in the Eastern Conference – the New York Rangers – up first, the Canes canâ€™t let things slide early in the going.
If you want a dark horse club to cheer for, Carolina will happily pile you on the bandwagon. Thereâ€™s so much potential for the club to be a consistent Stanley Cup contender in the coming years and, while they might not be there just yet, weâ€™ve learned itâ€™s pointless to undervalue this franchise when the games begin to matter.
Stanley Cup Odds: +4500
This was supposed to be the year when the Panthers broke through and showed some true hope for the future. After all, they finally had the goalie to match the golden era of Roberto Luongo in two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, while the additions of Erik Haula and Brett Connolly were supposed to address some of the team’s depth scoring issues.
Instead, Bobrovsky was one of the worst goaltenders statistically in the entire league, and the Panthers’ poor defense couldn’t make up for it, once again putting a big focus on star forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov (who both fell far off of their 92 and 96-point runs from last year respectively, even on a full-season pace). The Cats were able to put up the sixth-best goals per game mark in the NHL at 3.30 – five players had 20 goals and nine had at least 30 points, so scoring was spread out nicely this season – but when your goals-against-per-game sits at 3.25, youâ€™re stuck sitting as a playoff outsider.
The biggest chance for the Panthers to advance in the new playoff format is for Bobrovsky to mimic the magic that made an uninspiring Blue Jackets team a playoff unit a year ago. Bobrovsky’s -13.80 GSAA was 83rd among 87 goalies with at least one game played this season, and he notched a .907 save percentage at even strength – one of the worst results for any starting goalie in the league. With this in mind, it would seem that returning to top form is easier said than done. Bobrovksy has had stretches of good results in Florida this year, but he has to be near perfect in the play-in round to even earn a shot at showing what heâ€™s capable of on a bigger stage.
The Panthers were down low on the man-games lost scale this season and should have a full roster once play resumes, but they can’t use injuries as an excuse. It’s all going to come down to whether the back end can step up at the most important time of the year.
Stanley Cup Odds: +5000
New York Islanders
The Islanders struggled to regain the momentum that saw them finish second in the Metropolitan last year. The biggest personnel change was the departure of Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner, with the roster relatively untouched otherwise. So why the fall to fifth in the standings despite another year of solid goaltending, this time with Semyon Varlamov sharing duties with Thomas Greiss?
The main issue was scoring. The Islanders finished 12th in the East – only the Blue Jackets had fewer among play-in teams with 180 – and 23rd overall with a mere 192 goals, thanks to skating just two 20-goal scorers in Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. Jean-Gabriel Pageau was added at the trade deadline to help improve the situation, but he potted only two goals in seven games before the shutdown. Getting him acclimated to playing a key role should help, though the Islanders canâ€™t rely on defense to win playoff seriesâ€™.
At the very least, the Isles are one of the best organizations when it comes to keeping pucks away. They allowed 193 goals this season – tying them for sixth with Carolina and St. Louis – with Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock leading the pack at a 1.81 expected-goals-against-per-60 rate. This was good enough for fourth place among defensive partners league-wide with at least 50 games played together. The Islanders don’t have a big-name defenseman (not to insult Pulock and Nick Leddy) but, when your group shuts down offenses as effectively as the Islanders do, who needs one?
While neither net-minder lived up to the expectations Lehner laid down after his incredible bounce back 2018-19 campaign, both Varlamov and Greiss were top 25 goalies statistically, giving the Islanders a chance to win on any given night. Both have experience â€“ albeit limited â€“ as starting goalies in the post-season, but Varlamov made it to the spring time just once during an eight-year run in Colorado, after shining as a rookie in 2008-09. Varlamov still has the edge as the potential starter heading into the play-in round but, if any team is going to be willing to swap goalies at a moment’s notice to save a series, it’s the Isles. That’s a nice luxury at this point in the race.
The Islandersâ€™ winning strategy will involve heavy defense and coach Barry Trotz knows a thing or two about getting the most from his players. This should be a healthy organization heading into the play-in, but finding a way to eek out a few more goals will be vital for a team on the bubble.
Stanley Cup Odds: +6000
Columbus Blue Jackets
When the regular season concluded in March, the Blue Jackets had eight players (including six forwards) on the sidelines. 21 players â€“ only 20 can for a given game â€“ have combined for 419 man-games lost to injury this season, the most of any team in the NHL. Add in the losses of Sergei Bobrovksy (the best goaltender the team has ever had), Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel – and no notable reinforcements outside of Gustav Nyquist – and itâ€™s hard to imagine just how the Blue Jackets forced their way into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, losing out on a tiebreaker for eighth with Toronto.
Now, with a near full roster, can the Blue Jackets pull off another shocker? We should see a much stronger club than we saw for most of this season, but there are still many question marks heading into the playoffs. To kick things off, whoâ€™s the starting goaltender for the play-in series? Both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo played some incredible hockey this year and each of them was, at various stretches, the best goalie in the NHL for a few weeks at a time. But with zero combined playoff starts between them, can you trust either option?
The Blue Jackets can outmatch opponents defensively (tied for third-fewest with just 187 goals against), and we know grinding out victories is something that tends to work in the playoffs. On the flipside, Columbus had the fewest goals scored among playoff teams with 180 (29th overall), without much time to gel as a complete unit at this point. If anything, the Jackets are a strong candidate to pull off a major playoff upset, but donâ€™t expect an extended post-season run. There just isnâ€™t enough substance to expect them to knock off a top contender, even with a full lineup.
Stanley Cup Odds: +6600
Face it: while a first-round playoff appearance would be a treat for Canadiens fans who have been told all year that the franchise needs to focus on retooling for the future, a shot at Alexis Lafreniere in the upcoming NHL draft is now a true possibility. This has to be more enticing for a team that hasnâ€™t managed to piece together a Stanley Cup appearance since 1993, despite housing one of the worldâ€™s top goaltenders.
There’s no guarantee the Canadiens will get a shot at Lafreniere and teams don’t play to lose. Montreal still has a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup and, if they can tackle Pittsburgh in the play-in round, the sky’s the limit for a team that – for a portion of the season – looked like legitimate playoff contenders in a normal year. Carey Price held up his end of the bargain in net and, if the Habs go out early this summer, it won’t be because of his inability to stop pucks. Instead, their potential exit will likely be attributed to the team’s inability to put pucks in the net, with Tomas Tatar as the the only 50-point forward on the team (61 in 68 games), joining Brendan Gallagher as the only 20-goal scorers with 22 apiece. Max Domi saw his production fall from 72 points last season to 44 – in 11 fewer games this time around – while injury-shortened campaigns by Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Jonathan Drouin meant the Canadiens had to get creative to score.
The Habs should be near full health when the season play-in kicks off. The team’s offensive MVP – Tatar – missed time with an upper-body injury but recently won a tennis tournament in Slovakia against other hockey players, so he’s ready for action once things get back underway. Victor Mete is not guaranteed to return to Montreal’s blue line after suffering a foot injury, which means the teamâ€™s already lackluster defensive corps will need to find ways to hold their own down the line. This is hardly comforting to fans of the franchise, to be sure.
One thing is clear: Price will need to steal a few games to give the Canadiens a fighting chance. The team’s abysmal bottom-six doesn’t offer a ton of scoring relief, and issues with their defense weren’t addressed during the season, so the already tough task of winning in the playoffs will be even tougher. At least the Habs should have close to a full and healthy team to give them their best shot at victory.
Stanley Cup Odds: +7000
Whether you believe there should be an asterisk or not, the 2020 playoffs will be like none other. If all goes well, weâ€™re still going to see a Stanley Cup champion, and who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the best post-season weâ€™ve ever seen. At least weâ€™re getting closer to watching real hockey, right?
Whoâ€™s your pick to win the Stanley Cup?