After nearly three months off, the NHL will get back to work with its Return to Play Plan. League commissioner Gary Bettman essentially ended the regular season and the top 24 teams will now compete for the Stanley Cup.

The tournament structure is unique with an NHL Playoff play-in round series. Teams will remain in their respective conference. The top four teams will play a round-robin tournament to determine seeds No. 1 through 4. The remaining teams have been seeded No. 5 through 12 and will play a five-game series to advance. All remaining series will be seven games.

Which NHL Teams Could Surprise?

All the games will be played in two hub cities still to be determined.

The arenas will remain secure and no fans will be permitted. There are still some health and safety issues to work out, but the four-phase plan to return to play should put teams on the ice by late July.

That said, is there a surprise Stanley Cup team lurking somewhere?

Boston (+600) and Tampa Bay (+600) are favorites to win the Stanley Cup from the Eastern Conference. St. Louis (+1000), Colorado (+750), and Vegas (+850) are the favorites from the West.

Beyond those five teams, a Cinderella is looking to put on the glass slipper for a miraculous run to the 2020 Stanley Cup.

 


Phase 2 of NHL's Return Plan Underway | Instant Analysis


 

In the East

Whether or not you believe they are a Cinderella, the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will have to win a play-in-round series to advance in the postseason. Pittsburgh, a longshot at +2000 to win the Stanley Cup, will win that first-round series. They will face the worst of the 24 teams – Montreal – in the postseason.

Sure, the Canadiens G Carey Price could get hot. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and a healthy Jake Guentzel will be much hotter. Guentzel was on pace to score 40 goals this season.

The Pens would then seemingly have an easier road to the Cup. After beating the Habs, Pittsburgh would then face the No. 4 seed in the first round. The only question surrounding the Pens is in goal. If they can get quality play between the pipes, the glass slipper will fit perfectly and that futures bet will pay off nicely.

Another possibility is the 11th seed – the New York Rangers. Goalie Igor Shesterkin was in a car accident and would have likely missed the remainder of the season. With the time off, he’ll be back and there wasn’t a hotter play in the league than Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad.

Add in Artemi Panarin and the Rangers (+4800) could surprise the playoff field. Oh, the Rangers were 4-0 against Carolina, their play-in foe, during the regular season.

Out West

Like the East, the West has a beautiful Cinderella in its No. 5 seed – Edmonton. The Oilers have two of the best players in the world – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl – who happen to be the top two scorers in the NHL. Draisatl has 43 goals and 110 points; McDavid has 34 and 97.

There is no question the Oilers will beat Chicago in the play-in round when the NHL season resumes. At +2300 to win the Cup, it’s a risk, but like Pittsburgh, Edmonton will get the No. 4 seed in the first round and with that kind of offense, the slipper might fit perfectly.

The other surprise in the West could come from Winnipeg. The Jets (+5500) have been knocking on the door the last few years. They made the Western Conference final in 2018. They will face Calgary, a team they beat 2-1 in overtime in their only meeting of the season, in the play-in round.

The difference maker for the Jets is goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Winnipeg road the back of Hellebuyck all season. He went 31-21-5 with a .922 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average. If the Jets offense – which averaged 3.00 goals per game – can get hot, Hellebuyck could be the horse and carriage that carries the Cinderella Jets to the Cup.

About the Author

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.

His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.

When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.

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