NHL Western Conference 2020 playoff preview

More teams are in contention to win the Cup than ever before.

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Need an underdog team to follow during the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs? How about the entire Western Conference?

Since day one, Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington have been among the favorites to win the Cup. For the most part, they’ve lived up to the hype. Out West, two teams that were expected to contend for the championship – Calgary and San Jose – fell flat compared to 2018-19, while many other mid-pack entities struggled for consistency. 

But that ignores how St. Louis lived up to their billing as defending Stanley Cup champions and fought back to finish first in the Western Conference. What about Vegas remaining a top contender, or Colorado finally showing off the fruits of years of rebuilding? There’s so much intrigue in the West once again, and many others have groups capable of finding their way to the Cup final.

As part of the NHL’s Return-to-Play plan, the league will utilize a 24-team format for the first time. Four teams from each conference will earn a bye to the round-robin series, with St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas holding those spots in the West. The next eight teams in each conference will participate in a qualifying round play-in tournament, with the four winning teams from each side moving on to the first round of the playoffs. The playoffs will resume as normal from that point on – unless we get an unexpected cancellation, of course.

With more teams in contention to win the Cup than ever before, here’s a breakdown of each Western Conference team and the biggest storylines surrounding their playoff appearances:

Vegas Golden Knights

2019-20 record: 39-24-8 (3rd in the Western Conference)

Since their inception in 2017-18, the Golden Knights have been a top team in the NHL. From a Stanley Cup final appearance in their rookie season to a spirited effort against San Jose that appeared to be going Vegas’ way until the final minutes of Game 7, the Golden Knights have been contenders for the entirety of their brief existence. 

But this time, it feels like they may have what it take to become champions. One of the biggest reasons is the renewed presence of Max Pacioretty, who hit the 30-goal mark for the sixth time in his career and just the first time since his 2017-18 season with the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty’s 22-point jump made him one of the biggest offensive risers on a team that didn’t struggle to put pucks in the net. In fact, he was on two of the best lines in terms of expected goals-for-percentage in the NHL – thanks largely to the addition of notable two-way stalwart Mark Stone, whom the club acquired from Ottawa late last season. Stone, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault each had at least 20 goals themselves, while Paul Stastny and William Karlsson were on pace to give the club six 20-goal scorers before the lockdown – the most in franchise history. 

The Golden Knights became known as a strong possession team in 2019-20, led by defenseman Shea Theodore. Theodore’s 58.5 Corsi-for percentage led all defensemen in the league with at least 40 games played, while Nick Holden finished third at 56.86 percent. The Theodore-Holden combination had a xGoals percentage of 60.7% (third among defensive pairings with at least 50 games played), meaning they simply dominated puck possession when on the ice together. Not only are the Golden Knights scoring (227 goals scored, third most in the West), they’re shutting teams down (211 goals against, sixth in the West) for a well-rounded effort.

The Golden Knights also have the luxury of possessing two goalies capable of handling playoff duty. Marc-Andre Fleury is still the man in charge but he had a down year, statistically. If he falters early, 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner was brought in to strengthen the team’s backup situation and, had he started more games in Chicago this year before the deadline, we could have been talking about another shot at the top goaltender award. Having two guys they can rely on is huge but, with Fleury’s being the top gun since the club’s inception, look for coach Peter DeBoer to ride him out as long as possible.

The Golden Knights lived up to all expectations this year and took things to a new level thanks to big seasons from the club’s top stars. The amount of depth in the lineup makes them a tough team to defend against, so don’t give them opportunities in the post-season if you want to survive.

Stanley Cup Odds: +700

Mar 8, 2020; San Jose, California, USA; Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher (37) celebrates with right wing Joonas Donskoi (72) during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche 

2019-20 record: 42-20-8 (2nd in the Western Conference)

Want a team that’s young, fun, and capable of challenging to the NHL’s elite? The Avalanche are the team for you, which is funny to ponder three years removed from the worst season in franchise history. Years of tremendous draft results, developing one of the league’s most dominant forwards, and finally finding someone to handle the job in net has given the Avalanche new life – and a promising future, too.

The story of Nathan MacKinnon keeps getting better each season, as the 24-year-old has put himself in the Hart Trophy conversation with a 35-goal, 93-point campaign (which would have translated to a career-high 109 points in a full season). He’s the driving force of the dominant MacKinnon – Gabriel Landeskog – Mikko Rantanen line that, if healthy, would have had three 85-plus point forwards. But unlike in previous years, the Avalanche found success from outside the top trio. Andre Burakovsky was on pace for a career-high 60 points but instead settled for 45 – a nice jump from his previous full-season best of 38. Nazem Kadri would have eclipsed 50 points in a full season, while Valeri Nichushkin shook off the skeletons that saw him fail to record a goal in 55 contests a year ago, to become one of the best bottom-six forwards in the league.

That doesn’t even take into account the big steps the team made defensively. Rookie Cale Makar became a defensive sensation after placing himself near the top in most statistical categories among defenders, but he rarely led his team in ice time. Instead, he was effective in a second-pairing unit with breakout blue liner Ryan Graves, adding to a core that already saw Samuel Girard post a career season himself. 

But once again, goaltending remains a question heading to the post-season. In a perfect world, Philipp Grubauer is the main man, but Francouz had some tremendous stretches that eclipsed what Grubauer was capable of in nearly the same number of starts. Grubauer’s surface stats were nothing special, though his .935 SV and 13.15 GSAA made him a top five goalie in both regards. Meanwhile, Francouz’s stats of .925 and 5.04 still make him a top 15 option, and you have to take into account that many of Francouz’s starts came when; A) Grubauer was hurt or; B) some of the team’s top players were out. Relatively speaking, both had strong seasons and were worthy of playoff starts, but you have to lean toward the man with the most experience in this case – Grubauer.

This is the most well-rounded Avalanche outfit we’ve seen since the Patrick Roy-era glory days. The Avs were one of the most injured teams in the league this season and the impact was clearly felt at times, but we’re talking about a team that trailed the St. Louis Blues by two points for first in the Western Conference with a game in hand. Now that the team is back to full strength, you can’t ignore Colorado’s shot at the Stanley Cup – and many more in the near future.

Stanley Cup Odds: +750

St. Louis Blues 

2019-20 record: 42-19-10 (1st in the Western Conference)

It’s always easy to bet on the reigning champions, especially when they have a relatively unchanged roster the following year. The 2019-20 season has been smooth sailing for the Blues, who have hovered around first place since the opening puck drop this season without hesitation. It’s a nice change from most of last year, where the Blues sat last at the halfway point of the season before the meteoric rise to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

The Blues have remained dominant despite the absence of star winger Vladimir Tarasenko for most of the campaign. Tarasenko was off to one of the hottest starts in the NHL with 10 points in as many games, before a shoulder injury in late October put him on the sidelines for the remainder of the year. The expectation was that he would have been able to at least finish the regular season but now, with the extra time off, the rugged, two-way winger should be back to full force when the action kicks off again.

The Blues had no issues rallying around their sidelined star, with five players recording at least 50 points, and Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron both hitting the 60-point mark. Robert Thomas’ rise as one of the more versatile forwards on the Blues with a solid 42-point sophomore campaign was a big help, while Zach Sanford’s increased responsibilities saw him record a career-high 16 goals and 30 points despite missing time of his own. Good teams find ways to make up for flaws in the lineup, and the Blues had no issue proving they could do just that.

Of course, the Blues’ biggest draw is the play in their own zone. Pending UFA and team captain Alex Pietrangelo was on pace for the best offensive numbers of his career with 16 goals and 52 points in 70 games, while Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn continued to show why they’re lauded for their defensive-zone exploits. The biggest pre-season question – whether Jordan Binnington could prove last year’s incredible late-season run wasn’t a fluke – was answered with a 30-13-7 record, .923 save percentage, and 4.63 goals-saved-above-average at five-aside, as Binnington lived up to the billing. Adding to that, Jake Allen was one of the best backup goaltenders in the league, meaning that if Binnington falters, Allen should be able to handle his own.

Many Cup contenders have had to disband their winning lineups due to cap restraints and other reasons in the past. That’s just not the case for the Blues, and the status quo – with the re-addition of Tarasenko to the lineup – means the club should be headed for another long playoff run. But repeating as Cup champions is easier said than done: only Pittsburgh (2016 and 2017) has done it consecutively since 2000.

Stanley Cup Odds: +1100

Dallas Stars 

2019-20 record: 37-24-8 (4th in the Western Conference)

The Stars needed just one more goal to eliminate St. Louis in the Western Conference semifinal last year. Maybe, instead of the Blues’ miraculous run, we’d be talking about Dallas’ search for a third Stanley Cup instead. Unfortunately, the stars didn’t align, but the team remains one of the biggest threats to hoist the Cup despite a rocky first quarter of the season.

While Dallas was chasing the same success that made them a powerhouse last season, they sat 11th in the West 15 games into the season. It took some gelling, but the team eventually started grinding their way to wins and forced themselves into third place in the Central Division. The successful turnaround didn’t come easy. Tyler Seguin was the only Star to hit 50 points, and that’s all he got. Sophomore Denis Guryanov was the only 20-goal scorer on the team while Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry – the team’s top two additions last summer – failed to live up to expectations offensively. As a group, the Stars finished 28th in league, scoring with just 180 goals.

And yet, Dallas still finished with a positive goal differential after allowing just 177 – three more than the Boston Bruins for the fewest in the league. This is a team that beats you with a defense-first mindset, easy to do when they have Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, and Esa Lindell leading the charge, plus a superstar goaltender in Ben Bishop tending the crease. Bishop in particular was spectacular in the post-season last year, and earned a runner-up spot in the Vezina Trophy voting. Another long playoff run will be required out of Big Ben if the Stars want an extended return to hockey this fall.

The Stars don’t have the flash of the other top Western Conference contenders and they sure won’t win over with exciting gameplay. But winning games in the playoffs isn’t about who can be the most creative – it’s often about grinding away and shutting opponents down with dominant play in your own zone. The Stars don’t have a weak link in their back end and have found a way to get the most out of depth players like Stephen Johns and Jamie Oleksiak. Utilizing all your options on the point is a winning strategy, so don’t ignore Dallas.

Stanley Cup Odds: +1500

Edmonton Oilers 

2019-20 record: 37-25-9 (5th in the Western Conference)

For just the second time, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are off to the post-season. And the best part? They’re the top two players in the world. Now more than ever, it’s time for the two stars to show what they’re capable of.

Primary scoring hasn’t been a concern for the Oilers. Draisaitl was the lone player to crack 100 points – with 43 goals and 110, while McDavid – who was on pace to match Draisaitl before an injury – came second with 97. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished third with 61 points in 65 games, but there was a drastic fall off after that. No other player hit the 35-point mark, and late-season additions Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis didn’t get to fully stretch their legs.

The final stats won’t show it, but late-season runs by Kailer Yamamoto (25 points in final 26 contests) and Josh Archibald (16 points in 29 games) gave the Oilers a bit of extra life. They’ll need those same players to show up and add extra secondary scoring, but having McDavid and Draisaitl split up for most of the season helped the team get closer to that goal.

It’s a shame that a team with two of the league’s biggest stars still has questions surrounding the rest of the lineup. Ethan Bear was a nice revelation on the blue line as a rookie, but was often relied on to be the team’s best option. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse had solid seasons, though the quality starts to drop off after that. In net? Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen split the season with 39 and 38 games respectively, with Koskinen holding a slight statistical edge despite struggling with consistency. Smith has proven on a few occasions he can handle the load of a playoff run. Do either instill much confidence for a fanbase that’s desperate for results? Not entirely.

Too many years of McDavid’s career have been wasted by mediocrity. Finally, it looks like the Oilers have something to work with, even if it comes with its obvious flaws. If the big two remain at the top of their games, they should be fine – as long as the defense can keep up its end of the bargain.

Stanley Cup Odds: +2200

Chicago Blackhawks

2019-20 record: 32-30-8 (12th in the Western Conference) 

The Chicago Blackhawks finished dead last in the Central Division. Fortunately, all the bad Western Conference teams reside in the Pacific Division, ultimately giving the Blackhawks a spot in the play-in series. In the final month and a half of the regular season, the Blackhawks had an 8-9-2 record for 19th in the league – far from great, but not terrible either. The team’s starting goaltender is now Vegas’ backup in Robin Lehner, one of the cornerstones of the 2010-era dynasty is regulated to long-term injured reserve status in Brent Seabrook, and a host of others missed substantial time due to season-ending injuries.

There are still some big-time believers in the Blackhawks, and betting lines suggest they’re a better option than teams that would have made the post-season in a regular year. Why? You can never count out a group that features many of the key members of Chicago’s dynasty from the past decade. Patrick Kane is still one of the best wingers in the NHL, Jonathan Toews shook off early season struggles to regain his form and Dominik Kubalik proved he’s going to be a star. Best of all, it’s a fresh start with a near-healthy team. The Hawks have a shot and they won’t let it go to waste.

If any team needed a full reset, it’s Chicago. Alex DeBrincat fell well short of his 2018-19 output, sliding from 41 goals and 76 assists to a career-low 18 goals and 45 points. Brandon Saad, Dylan Strome, Alexander Nylander, and Kirby Dach all struggled to put pucks in the net. Corey Crawford was just average. Now, that’s all forgotten. If the Blackhawks can outplay the Oilers for just three nights (Chicago won the season series 2-1), they’ll have a shot. This is a team that needs everything to click – and quickly – but having a roster with significant Stanley Cup experience can come up big, especially against an Edmonton team with a depth issue.

Stanley Cup Odds: +2500

Mar 10, 2020; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Nashville Predators center Kyle Turris (8) skates with the puck against Montreal Canadiens during the first period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville Predators

2019-20 record: 35-26-8 (6th in the Western Conference)

As the Predators’ Stanley Cup window continues to dwindle, 2019-20 was a year to forget. The team was lauded for it’s scoring depth in the early going, only to have one of the franchise’s worst losing streaks in November. Key players Ryan Ellis and Victor Arvidsson missed significant time, while defenseman Roman Josi was the only player to hit 50 points. The scoring depth was still impressive with 12 players recording at least 30 points, but it seemed like you never knew what you were going to get out of the Preds on any given night – especially in net.

Pekka Rinne had a weird knack for going on a crazy stretch of games after losing a few in a row. At 37, that’s expected, but it’s clear his athleticism has weakened since he won 42 games just two years ago. Juuse Saros hasn’t been otherworldly in comparison, and his performance has seen a bit of a dip compared to 2018-19. But he did a better job overall of giving the Predators a shot to win, and cemented his role as the starting goaltender after the halfway point of the season. Saros has just seven games of playoff experience – all in relief – so the biggest challenge of his career is upon him.

As has always been the case with David Polie’s squad, the Predators’ biggest strength is in their own zone. Josi is regarded by many as a top-10 defenseman, and Ellis was trending towards a Norris Trophy nod early on before an injury put a hold on his season. A healthy combination of Josi and Ellis is one of the top defense pairings in the league, while Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro make up a solid second duo. Nashville desperately needs the offense to pick up the slack to allow the D-core to focus on their own responsibilities, but that’s been the team’s Achilles heel for the past decade.

Once former bench boss Peter Laviolette was replaced by Jon Hynes in early January, the Predators’ 33 points were good for ninth in the league and fourth in the conference. That’s more like what fans expected out of the Preds this season, giving the fanbase some hope heading into crunch time. Everything just has to click immediately to salvage any hopes of a Stanley Cup.

Stanley Cup Odds: +4000

Vancouver Canucks

2019-20 record: 36-27-6 (7th in the Western Conference)

If you had the Vancouver Canucks as a playoff team heading into 2019-20, congrats! You’re a liar. But that’s what makes the team’s fantastic effort so special. The Canucks had everything from a top goaltender, a star defenseman and a youthful forward core that – when healthy – featured an admirable top-six group. Still, no one projected them to make much noise in 2019-20. It’s easy to wonder what could have happened if Vancouver had to play out the regular season as originally scheduled.

Jakob Markstrom – one of the top statistical goaltenders in the NHL this year and a true Vezina Trophy candidate – went down with a knee injury in February and was expected to miss the remainder of the regular season before the shutdown. If the Canucks are to have a chance of advancing past the play-in, Markstrom will need to channel what made him so valuable before his injury: his ability to perform well in games where his team gets heavily outplayed. Markstrom’s record when facing at least 40 shots this season was 7-1, including a 49-save shutout in mid-February. Simply put, Markstrom is Vancouver’s most important player moving forward.

Almost as important is the play of rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes. A frontrunner to win the Calder Trophy, Hughes was Vancouver’s best defenseman most nights and a vital cog of the team’s power play. This is clearly the biggest test of his short career so far. Can he handle the pressure at the highest stage he’s had to deal with? He’s had no issue adjusting to everything thrown at him to date, so don’t expect that to change. He just can’t be relied on to hold the entire D-core on his back, which means getting Christopher Tanev back from a previous lower-body injury will help ease the burden.

Speaking of injury returns, Brock Boeser was supposed to miss the rest of the regular season with rib cartilage fracture, but he returned to full practice just before the lockdown. That’s huge for a player who was on the verge of hitting 50 points for the third time in as many seasons, and will help complete the team’s top line with Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. The Canucks have a rather fresh squad in terms of playoff experience, after missing the past four spring tournaments due to a full-on rebuild that’s still in effect. Vancouver hasn’t won a playoff series since losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to Boston in 2011, so let’s see if the early stages of the rebuild show positive returns.

Stanley Cup Odds: +4000

Mar 9, 2020; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski (33) jostles for position with Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (81) during the second period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Coyotes

2019-20 record: 33-29-8 (11th in the Western Conference)

The Arizona Coyotes may have finished 12th in the Western Conference but, when you dig a bit deeper, the season doesn’t appear to have been all too bad. The club had to deal with injuries to key players throughout the campaign but still finished third in fewest goals-against with just 187. An extended absence for Niklas Hjalmarsson took him out for most of the season, while late-season injuries to Jason Demers and Jacob Chychrun meant the Coyotes were having to get creative in their own zone – especially with star goaltender Darcy Kuemper out for two months before the break.

A five-game losing streak with Kuemper on the sidelines in January helped show just how important he was to the team’s cause. Among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 action, Kuemper’s .931 save percentage and 9.84 GSAA made him a top-five goaltender in the league – one capable of fighting for the Vezina had he not been limited to 29 games. It’s not a fluke, either. He’s a top 10 goalie if you just look at the past two seasons. But like many of the Coyotes, Kuemper’s playoff history is limited with just nine games played since 2013, and none since a relief appearance in 2015. This bears the question: can he replicate Mike Smith’s heroics from 2012?

The toughest obstacle the team has to overcome is its lack of scoring. Connor Garland was Arizona’s only 20-goal scorer – a year after nobody hit the mark – and not a single player recorded 50 points. That’s why the club acquired Phil Kessel in the first place last summer, but that wasn’t enough. Former NHL MVP Taylor Hall added some life to the lineup but failed to regain his old pizzazz with just 27 points in 35 games, so he’ll need to do much more once the post-season kicks off. The Coyotes will have to grind their way to victories, but as long as the team can’t figure out the scoring situation – in spite of having two all-star caliber wingers to choose from – Arizona won’t have enough to earn a long playoff run.

Stanley Cup Odds: +5000

Winnipeg Jets

2019-20 record: 37-28-6 (9th in the Western Conference)

The Jets were supposed to be frontrunners for the 2019 Stanley Cup. The chips were in place, the roster was stellar front to back, and the team had an elite player to rally around at every position. Instead, the Jets were eliminated in the first round, Jacob Trouba was shipped to the Big Apple, Dustin Byfuglien sat out the entire season, and Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot skipped town via free agency to create the need to fill four new spots on the blue line. The biggest off-season story, though, was the uncertain contract situation surrounding two of the team’s top young forwards – Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor – which wasn’t resolved until the start of training camp.

Those changes were tough to overcome and the Jets spent 2019-20 looking like a shell of a team that once appeared poised as long-term Stanley Cup contenders. The window quickly shrunk this season, forcing the club to adapt with little success. Like Vancouver, the team’s saving grace came in the crease. Among goaltenders with at least 1,000 minutes of five-a-side hockey, Connor Hellebuyck’s .928 save percentage put him eighth in the league while his six shutouts topped the rest. And that doesn’t take into account just how sharp Hellebuyck was in high-danger situations – spoiler: very, very good – something that’s quite vital when your team finishes fifth in the league in shots against with 2,315. Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk have handled themselves well as Winnipeg’s top two options on the blue line, but Helleybuck was the true difference-maker on the Jets’ side of the ice.

Up front, the scoring was business as usual. Patrik Laine was set to hit 30 goals for a fourth-consecutive season, Kyle Connor and Mark Schiefele were point-per-game players, and Nikolaj Ehlers saw a big bump in his performance – going from 37 points in 62 games in 2018-19 to 58 in 71 this season. Blake Wheeler wasn’t near his 91-point run from the previous season, but still hit 65 points for the sixth time in the past seven years. The key for Winnipeg will be penetrating Calgary’s strong defensivee core often, and having Hellebuyck in the crease offers a bit of peace of mind in terms of locking things down in the net. Still, this isn’t Winnipeg’s year for the Cup. Keeping the team in the hunt, however, can only go a long way toward the future.

Stanley Cup Odds: +5000

Calgary Flames 

2019-20 record: 36-27-7 (8th in the Western Conference)

The 2019-20 campaign has been a rough one for the Flames, who fell flat after winning the Western Conference title last season. Under the NHL’s usual wild-card standings, the Flames would have just avoided a wild-card spot with 79 points, as division rivals Vancouver and Minnesota had 78 and 77 points respectively, with one fewer game played each. That likely doesn’t instill confidence in a group that remained largely unchanged in its core a year removed from a tremendous regular season run.

Last year’s biggest issue was that Calgary’s top stars were nowhere to be found when it mattered most. Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, and – most importantly – Johnny Gaudreau, were invisible in the 2019 post-season, recording a combined five points in five games against a Colorado Avalanche club that had no business beating the Flames on paper. Gaudreau’s game took a noticeable step down this regular season, falling from 99 points in 2018-19 to just 69 in a full on-pace effort. Unfortunately for Calgary, nobody picked up the goal-scoring slack, with the Flames recording 40-fewer goals than they had at the same point last season. Matthew Tkachuk – the team’s leading scorer with 61 points in 69 games – was set for a decrease from his 77-point run last year, while Sean Monahan had just over half (48) of his 82 points, so Calgary desperately needs its scoring unit to pick up the pace against Winnipeg in the play-in round.

Do the Flames have another goaltending controversy on their hands? David Rittich represented the team at the all-star game back in January but was outplayed by Cam Talbot as the season continued to wear on. Talbot’s .924 SV and 1.48 GSAA at even strength made him a top 25-goaltender in the league, while Rittich (.910 SV and minus-2.53 GSAA) was one of the worst among goalies with at least 15 games played after January 1st. A late-season injury allowed backup Mike Smith to steal Rittich’s crease last year. Ideally, Rittich would start the games this time around, but did his play in the dying months of the regular season warrant a shot?

This is starting to feel a bit like the 2019 playoffs again thanks to Calgary’s continued scoring and goaltending concerns. That doesn’t mean the Flames don’t stand a chance – far from it, actually. Gaudreau and Monahan have 20 points combined in the past 20 contests over Winnipeg, contributing to a 5-3-2 record in that span. At the very least, the Flames have a big edge on the blue line with reigning Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano leading the way, and Calgary’s top talent has proven they can dig their way out of slumps in the past. This fresh start could work wonders on Calgary’s final finishing result.

Stanley Cup Odds: +5500

Minnesota Wild

2019-20 record: 35-27-7 (10th in the Western Conference)

The first few months of the regular season were a total disaster for Minnesota. After a month of action, the Wild found themselves tied for last in the Central Division with a 4-9-0 record, as only Chicago and Ottawa had scored fewer goals than Minny’s 30. It led one of the team’s top players at the time – Jason Zucker – to call out coach Bruce Boudreau after starting the season with six losses in seven games, and it looked like the focus was going to immediately shift to the mighty-strong 2020 draft.

The Wild fired Boudreau on February 14th, replacing him with interim coach Dean Everson. The timeline was short, but the Wild’s 8-4-0 record in 12 games was good for 11th in the league before the season ended – and just four points behind the league-leading Blues, who had two games in hand. Everson specifically found a way to unlock Kevin Fiala’s full potential, with the former first-round pick recording 16 points in the final 12 games. Forwards Zach Parise and Alex Galchenyuk, as well as defenders Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, were especially impressive, while Luke Kunin and Mikko Koivu played some of their best hockey of the season. It seemed like Everson could get the most out of his club’s depth, after the players just seemed to have quit on Boudreau over the first half of the season.

It also helps to have a hot hand in net, and Alex Stalock was exactly that. Stalock’s 9-3-1 record with a pair of shutouts in his final 13 starts was one of the best in the league during that span – Saros and Hellebuyck had 10 each – and he’s the right choice out of the gate over Devan Dubnyk. If Stalock’s run turns out to be a fluke – and he barely has any playoff experience – Dubnyk isn’t an ideal option. His .903 SP and minus-16.26 GSAA were among the worst numbers in the entire NHL.

The Wild found some energy late, but is it enough? The team seemed to have an identity crisis: are they contenders or pretenders? Hopefully, they can turn their late-season momentum into a play-in victory over Vancouver, but it’s likely that too much time has passed for them to carry that into the summer. 

Stanley Cup Odds: +6000

Whether you believe there should be an asterisk or not, the 2020 playoffs will be like none other. If all goes well, we’re still going to crown a Stanley Cup champion and, who knows? Maybe it’s the best post-season we’ve ever seen. At least we’re getting closer to watching real hockey, right?

Who’s your pick to win the Stanley Cup? Let us know!

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