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Playoff Predictions: seeding and play-in round picks

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Even before the season paused and the League Frankstein-ed together whatever the heck this playoff format is, I thought these playoffs were going to be fascinating. The Trade Deadline had me totally amped for playoff hockey. Don’t get me wrong - as the kid (and let’s be honest, adult) that was always more interested in the GM mode of the NHL video games than the actual gameplay, the Trade Deadline, much like free agent day, always has me geeking out hardcore. This year’s deadline did not truly feel like there were many completely jaw-dropping blockbusters out of left field or anything like that, but one clear thing did seem to happen - almost without fail, the contender’s LOADED UP (and some weren’t particularly concerned about the price they paid to do so).

The Capitals picked up Kovalchuk and Dillon. The Islanders got Pageau and Greene. The Penguins acquired Marleau and Sheary. The Lightning grabbed Goodrow and Coleman to round out their depth (and somehow gave up two 1st-round picks and their most recently drafted first-rounder Nolan Foote to do so). Carolina took maybe the biggest and most surprising haul of Skjei, Vatanen, and Trocheck. Edmonton got Mike Green (though he’s opted out of the playoffs), Athanasiou, and Ennis. Colorado got Namestnikov. Vancouver picked up Toffoli. Vegas pulled off a three-way deal to add Lehner on top of Fleury. Calgary added Forbot and Gustafsson to their blue line. The Bruins underwhelmed by comparison, getting Ritchie and Kase, but still managed to address some needs while shedding salary. There are others, but the moral of the story is that teams weren’t hesitant to add players and that made for several very deep rosters. And that gives the possibility of some long, intense, closely-contested playoff series. With the pause for the pandemic, that diminished a bit of that excitement - but add in the amount of players returning from injury that normally would have missed the playoffs, I’m still pumped to see how this will all play out. Will the rest or the rust be the greater factor going into these games? We’’ll find out soon enough.

-Ryan Sweezey

The table below includes playoff odds via Moneypuck.com

Each series includes a graphic with Dom Luszczyszyn's of The Athletic's probabilities. You can see even more great series data including team and player comparisons along with series predictions from Dom HERE

Courtesy of moneypuck - http://moneypuck.com/predictions.htm


Round Robin - 1 Bruins, 2 Lightning, 3 Capitals, 4 Flyers

RYAN: I fully expect the seeding to shuffle a bit for the Eastern round-robin group. The Bruins were far and away the best team in the league this season when the schedule paused but there are two things that make me think they will fall to a lower seed. One is matchups - perhaps more than any other sport, I think matchups are huge for playoff hockey and can be the difference between a good team getting knocked out early and making it all the way to the Final. There are some teams they just do not play well against even when they are dominant against most others. The Bruins always have difficulty with the Caps, and with the roster Washington has right now, I don’t see that changing easily. Meanwhile, we’ve seen what Tampa can do in recent years, and they were on an absolute roll when the league went on hiatus. They have depth and star power at all three positions.The second thing about the Bruins is I’ve never felt great about their roster all season. This year and even last year when they made it to Game 7 of the Final, they’ve felt like an overachieving team. They have a lot of good pieces, but they always seem to exceed my expectations. That’s obviously not a bad thing, but I’ve had a lot of difficulty escaping a feeling that sooner or later they will come back to earth. This is especially true with the uncertainty surrounding Pastrnak (made worse by a constant drought of secondary scoring), how little the new guys like Kase and Ritchie have played with their new teammates, and the fact that the Bruins have had some slow starts to the regular season in recent years and the league has had a long layoff. Tampa and Washington are built for playoff hockey. Philadelphia has the feel of a promising young team that rode a wave of momentum to a top-four spot, but which will suffer greatly from that momentum being interrupted.

Seeding after round-robin:

1 - Tampa Bay Lightning

2 - Washington Capitals

3 - Boston Bruins

4 - Philadelphia Flyers

LEON: Much like Ryan I feel the seeding will shuffle. Partially I feel this way simply because I think teams are going to use the round-robin as an opportunity to sharpen up just as much, if not more, than they are worried about seeding. This year is just so unique that managing ice time of star players, getting your systems down, and even getting depth players some quality reps may be more important than winning games that could have little meaning on the final outcome. As much as you likely don't want to play Pittsburgh in the "first" round, injury prevention and establishing chemistry are more important. Also, it's hockey, where the last-place team in the league still has a 40% chance to get points out of any given game. That variability in hockey is part of what keeps us on the edge of our seats. Tampa has the most to prove and probably the most depth even with the absence of Steven Stamkos and the late arrival to the bubble of Victor Hedman. In my mind, they come out ready to go. Washington should be hungry after a disappointing exit last year. Philadelphia is young, often an advantage when dealing with odd circumstances. The Bruins are an experienced and well-run outfit, but they had some major challenges around personnel in camp. The play-in round may prove to be like an extended camp and an opportunity to work through some of the line-up and chemistry issues that stem from missing a key winger on each of their top 3 lines through most of the actual camp - not to mention the absence of their starting goaltender. However, I do still expect the B's to advance into the later rounds and would not be surprised to see them reach the conference or Stanley Cup finals again.

Seeding after round-robin:

1 - Tampa Bay Lightning

2 - Washington Capitals

3 - Philadelphia Flyers

4 - Boston Bruins


5 Penguins vs. 12 Canadiens

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: The two 5v12 matchups in these makeshift playoffs were two of the more controversial aspects of the new format. Both feature two big-market 12-seeds with game-breaking stars that were probably too far out of the race to realistically have made the playoffs now having a legit shot at the Cup. For the Habs - Carey Price is that X factor. Overall Montreal is not a scary team. They went through a horrendous slump in the middle of the season. They’re not particularly deep, and they have had scoring troubles for years. Price has been the best goalie in the world at times in his career - but has fallen off in recent years. He still has the ability to steal a few games. But for a deep team like Pittsburgh with stars like Crosby and Malkin and a ton of Cup-winning experience, it’s not going to be nearly enough to hold off the Penguins for long.

Penguins in 3

LEON: Much like many series in this re-start, let alone in regular times, goaltending could be the key storyline. Can Carey Price go vintage Carey Price? If so, all bets are off. Claude Julien has a quick and hardworking team that can play fast much like the Penguins. However, they are not nearly as talented as the Pens and their recipe for success relies on goaltending and puck luck. The Penguins of Pittsburgh will likely turn to Matt Murray who has had great do-or-die success. However, he has been streaky over his career and Tristan Jarry has been the better netminder over the year. Crosby also seems to be battling minor injuries late in camp. But Pittsburgh is too strong, too experienced, and just has the edge at every position. Price stands on his head and the line of Danault-Tatar-Gallagher manage to sneak a game away from the Pens but that will be the extent of the scare.

Penguins in 4

6 Hurricanes vs. 11 Rangers

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: Carolina was one of only two teams to vote against the proposed playoff format, and it’s been reported that the reason was that they did not want to face the Rangers. It’s hard to blame them - the Rangers are a wild card - a young team on the upswing that was on quite a run when the season paused, with an MVP candidate in Artemi Panarin. Still, Carolina is surprisingly deep up front and has some impressive offensive weapons of its own like Aho, Svechnikov, and Teravainen. They also benefited a bit from the layoff in terms of resting injured players. Both of their goalies were injured, as well as Hamilton and Pesce on the blue line. There are still question marks surrounding Hamilton, and Pesce is still probably weeks away, but with Vatanen and Skjei added via trade, the blue line is the strength of this team and may be the deciding factor in this series.

Hurricanes in 5

LEON: This should be a fun one. This is a young Rangers team with some really exciting veteran stars in Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider who can all break a game open and have each experienced playoff success. The Hurricanes, the surprise Eastern Conference finalist from a year ago, are analytics darlings who regularly out-possess and out-shoot their opponents. Carolina's defense is standout, even when potentially missing some key pieces. They are an exciting team upfront. Goaltending is again a storyline here. Who will the Rangers start - an aging Lundqvist or upstart Shesterkin? The platoon of Mrazek and Reimer are league average and Mrazek, in particular, is streaky. My belief is Carolina just has too much depth and ability and will wear the Rangers out over a series as their D consistently move the puck up ice to a forward group that should have its way with a mediocre Rangers D core.

Hurricanes in 5

7 Islanders vs. 10 Panthers

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: Of all the series in the East, this one is pretty meh. It feels like a matchup of a team you always expect to be good and disappoints in the Panthers, and one team you always expect to be bad and they overachieve in the Islanders. Both also feature well-respected, Cup-winning coaches and enigmatic Russian goaltenders. The Islanders didn’t score a lot this year but didn’t let many goals in either. The Panthers scored a ton of goals, but also let in a ton. The series will likely come down to which Bobrovsky we get in net for Florida. When he’s on, he’s nearly unbeatable, but he’s had a terrible first season with the Panthers on his $10-million a year contract. The Panthers also are a bit of a mess - suiting up multiple defenseman as forwards throughout the season, and that lack of stability may sink them.

Islanders in 5

LEON: In Trotz we trust! If ever there was a coach who you'd want to shepherd your team through a pandemic and an unprecedented re-start I believe it is Barry Trotz. The Islanders players will be as prepared and together as is humanly possible. While Joel Quenneville is a great coach and sits among the all-time leaders in wins, I don't think his team gained enough cohesion or consistency throughout the year. While that may not matter in short 5-game series after months off, the Islanders just seem built and prepared for the grind that these first few games will likely be. Bobrovsky can certainly swing the series but count on the Islanders to make this a low-event series and find ways to score just enough to move on.

Islanders in 4

8 Maple Leafs vs. 9 Blue Jackets

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: This one is going to be fascinating. The Leafs story for years has been that of a talented team that can’t rise to the occasion when it really counts. They have so much offensive firepower, you would think that they would go to town on a team with two very inexperienced goalies. But Columbus, man, this is a John Tortorella-coached team - and that should scare a team like Toronto. That guy knows how to get the most out of a less-talented team. Columbus was ravaged by injury this season and lost Panarin, Duchene and Bobrvosky for nothing in the offseason and still stayed in playoff contention. Albeit with those free agents that left, this is the team that stunned the powerhouse Lightning last year. Especially with Seth Jones returning to the lineup, this team will give opponents fits through hard-work and determination. Still sooner or later something has to give for the Leafs, and hey, it’s not the Bruins.

Maple Leafs in 5

LEON: This series is old school versus new school. Get off my lawn/play the right way/block shots versus computer boys/skill kills/possess the puck. If the Jackets win the old guard will argue that the team is greater than the sum of its parts and it's all about defense and sacrifice. In response, the new school will argue the variance of hockey and you can't judge the small sample of one series. If the Leafs win, the analytics inclined will laud GM Kyle Dubas' hipster glasses and argue team building needs to be done around skill. The eye-test folks will simply say the Jackets were a team stripped of talent who still overachieved. No other series features teams who rely more on polar opposite construction and style. In my opinion, it's 2020 and the high flying Leafs limit costly mistakes just enough to make up for it with their immense skill and firepower. That is if Freddie Anderson can avoid his notorious slow starts coming out of a training camp. Expect Anderson to have at least one off game but otherwise do enough. The Leafs never do things the easy way and the Jackets make them earn in it.

Maple Leafs in 5


Round Robin - 1 Blues, 2 Avalanche, 3 Golden Knights, 4 Stars

RYAN: For the top two seeds here, it’s anyone’s game. With the high-powered youth of the Avalanche, I think they may swap spots with the Blues - an older team who played a lot of extra hockey last year en route to their first Cup. Granted, the extra layoff could be huge for the Blues. But the Avs had some injury issues down the stretch, and getting those guys back may give them the edge. Vegas will probably float where they are and I think Dallas is easily the weakest of the top teams. The Stars let in the second-fewest goals this season (just three more than Boston), but only scored three more goals than they allowed. The offense has underachieved for a while, but if a player like Jamie Benn can regain form, they could be a different team.

Seeding after round-robin:

1 - Avalanche

2 - Blues

3 - Golden Knights

4 - Stars

LEON: The Avalanche and Golden Knights get back to full health which could be scary after already strong seasons. Not only do the Avs get back top line players but also shore up their depth. They have the secondary scoring in a guy like Nazem Kadri ,missing in last year's run - granted Kadri needs to avoid scoring a hat trick of playoff suspensions. The Blues did it last year, and, unlike most repeat teams who have had little rest, have had plenty of time for rest and recovery this spring. The Stars get a chance to test their most recent team-building strategy of adding grizzled playoff veterans like Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski. Inevitably, I see St. Louis having the confidence and structure going into the round-robin to come out with the most points. I think a young energetic Avs team performs well, especially with a healthy Phillip Grubauer. The Golden Knights, my overall pick to emerge in the West, just barely trail the previous two. Dallas, led by my former coach Rick Bowness, manage a couple of loser points but no more.

Seeding after round-robin:

1 - Blues

2 - Avalanche

3 - Golden Knights

4 - Stars


5 Oilers vs. 12 Blackhawks

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: As stated in regard to the Habs, a lot of people weren’t happy that the Blackhawks were gifted a playoff spot. Any team with the playoff pedigree of Chicago is going to be dangerous in the postseason. They still have Kane, Toews and Keith, but will the rest of their depth be enough to keep up with McDavid and Draisaitl? Crawford’s health in net is also a huge question mark. Each team has gifted offensive stars who refuse to let their team lose. I think the youth of the Oilers will outlast the experience of the Blackhawks, but just barely.

Oilers in 5

LEON: These are two top-heavy teams with great star power, some young promising players, D cores with something to prove, and question marks in net. Looking under the hood, as a team, neither looks like a real contender, struggling in Corsi, expected goals, and other key metrics. Can Mikko Koskinen play well enough to prop up the Oilers young D? Will Corey Crawford be sharp enough after COVID-19 kept him from training for some time? Those might be the biggest questions for both teams. However, the one key area separating the two clubs is special teams. The Oilers are lights out on the man advantage led by their dynamic duo of Connor and Leon. Expect an even series that the Oilers pull out by a hair with their power play prowess.

Oilers in 5

6 Predators vs. 11 Coyotes

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

The Predators really turned it around after their coaching change and quietly made their way into the playoff structure even before adding the extra play-in teams. They have a deep team with some good playoff experience that has underachieved, and may be poised to turn it around, particularly if Pekka Rinne can remember how to be Pekka Rinne. I really want the Coyotes to do well. I really want Taylor Hall to make it through a playoff round. But I don’t know that it will happen. Arizona does have a surprisingly good defense corps and I’m not sure anyone would want to face a healthy Darcy Kuemper right now, but with Hall and Kessel failing to meet lofty expectations, the offense of the Coyotes may not be able to get it done.

Predators in 4

LEON: I have yet to predict an upset and here is where I will start. Nashville never looked in sync this year even after a coaching change. The Predators' goalies struggled and there were some notable declines in performances from a few key forwards. Arizona is a low-event team whereas the Preds play much more high-event. Expect the 'Yotes to slow down the Preds' attack, and when they do manage to get to the net Raanta or Kuemper are tough to beat. Phil Kessel will channel his historical playoff heroics and Taylor Hall, playing for a contract, puts up some points as well. Even more fun, the team built by John Chayka will 'make' the playoffs right as he abruptly and noisily departs the organization.

Coyotes in 5

7 Canucks vs. 10 Wild

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: There was a time the Wild always looked great on paper but never seemed to be as good as you expected them to be. Lately, it’s been more the opposite. They don’t look great on paper, but they manage to stay on the edge of the playoff bubble. They did manage to turn things around after Dean Evason took over behind the bench, but this just feels like a mismatch. The inexperience of the Canucks may be a hindrance later in the playoffs, but the high-end youthful offense will likely prove to be too much for the Wild, with Devan Dubnyk having a down year between the pipes.

Canucks in 4

LEON: Count me on the Devan Dubnyk train. As a long-time believer in Dubnyk dating back to his pre-Oilers Springfield Falcons' days, I think Dubs ends up being the story of the series. After a number of years of consistency, he struggled this year, possibly due to off-ice distractions. While it's no guarantee he is even the starter throughout the series, here is one vote of confidence not only in him starting but being the hero. The lay-off I think benefits the Wild more than the Canucks, giving rest to some key veterans. The Canucks are an interesting outfit as they are paced by the young Pettersson and Hughes but also have veterans like Tanev and the venerable Jay Beagle. Jacob Markstrom has not played many big NHL games but has done so internationally. Nonetheless, I'm going with Dubnyk and the Wild to create some chaos in the re-start and to put a blemish on what otherwise was a season that showed great promise for the Canucks.

Wild in 5

8 Flames vs. 9 Jets

Courtesy of Dom Luszczyszyn, see full article HERE

RYAN: This has the makings of a fun series. Both teams have some very exciting players in their top six. Calgary has that dangerous top line of Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Monahan, with high-scoring super-pest Matthew Tkachuk and the perpetually-underrated Mikael Backlund behind them. Winnipeg’s got Wheeler, Laine, Ehlers, Scheifele, and Connor. There could be a LOT of goals scored in this series. Calgary’s defense is much better than Winnipeg’s but I would put a lot more faith in Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes than David Rittich or Cam Talbot at the other end of the ice.

Jets in 5

LEON: I'm going to go with my 3rd consecutive 'upset' in this matchup, which is quietly one I think will be must-watch (I think any hockey is must-watch, but you get my point). The Jets have a good forward core, a maligned D core, and a Vezina finalist in net. The Flames have a strong forward core that had a bit of a rocky season, a standout D core, and question marks in goal. It's also a Western Canadian match up which, even without fans, should mean fast, heavy, and mean hockey. I really cannot wait. Calgary seemingly still had question marks about their forward line-up in camp with former Boston College star Johnny Gaudreau not on the top line for undisclosed reasons. Hellebuyck continues patching up for a suspect Jet's defense and Paul Maurice's squad quiet Matthew Tkachuk and company.

Jets in 5

Those are our predictions for this opening salvo of hockey. Remember to get a little Vitamin D during intermissions and a walk around the block to burn off some of those chicken wings and adult beverages. Ryan and I will be keeping standings on our predictions throughout the playoffs to see which one of us made up the best answers.

What do you think of our predictions? What are yours? Let us know in the comments!

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