We are now less than a week away from the restart of the 2019-2020 NHL season. Both the play-in rounds and seeding games will commence at the end of this week, with the Western Conference playing all of their games in Edmonton. In this article, I will give my input on each play-in series, along with a couple Stanley Cup outright bets at the end.
All odds via Bovada
Arizona Coyotes vs Nashville Predators
My pick: ARI +115
You’ll probably hear me say this a lot throughout the article, but I can not stress enough how important I think goaltending is in the NHL playoffs. Now I have nothing against Pekka Rinne, who is a proven goaltender with loads of playoff experience. Rinne and Juuse Saros have split time all season, and I’m expecting Nashville to ride with the veteran in net to start the series. Regardless, I give the goaltending edge to Arizona with their tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Now that both are completely healthy, I expect Arizona to ride Kuemper as their first option. Kuemper started 29 games this season, and ended the year with a 2.22 GAA and .928 save %. Offensively, I do think Nashville has the edge. They have more playoff experience than the Coyotes, and have more playmakers on the offensive end. However, they’ve been somewhat inconsistent throughout the year. Their advantage on offense does not cover the deficit they have with Arizona’s defensive and goaltending strength. With Nashville being a higher seed, and home ice not being a factor, I love Arizona at +115. I’m expecting a close series, with Arizona winning in four or five.
Players to watch:
NSH- Roman Josi– The Norris trophy finalist will have to continue his impressive season for the Predators, contributing both on the defensive and offensive end. Look for Josi to run Nashville’s PP1 and be near the team leader in points near the end of the series.
ARI- Taylor Hall– The Coyotes have had a lackluster record since they picked up Taylor Hall as a rental, but nonetheless the former Hart trophy winner is the catalyst for the Coyote’s offense. He will have to perform to his highest capabilities if Arizona wants to make a run for the cup.
Winnipeg Jets vs Calgary Flames
My pick: WPG +100
Connor Hellebuyck had himself yet another Vezina caliber season, and will have to carry the load for Winnipeg against the Flames. I think there’s a way greater chance Hellebuyck stands on his head than David Rittich does. Calgary hasn’t been the same since the regular season last year, and they’re attempting to avenge their 1st round loss against the Avalanche as the #1 seed. This matchup is the #8 vs #9 seed, and these teams are very similar both on paper and their playing styles on the ice. They both have offensive capabilities of scoring a plethora of goals at a rapid pace, and have been susceptible to giving up bad goals on the defensive end. I’m expecting a high scoring series, and banking on both Winnipeg’s balanced offensive attack along with Hellebuyck’s goaltending skills in order to put an end to Calgary’s season. The Jets should be able to win this series in 4 or 5 games.
Players to watch:
WPG- Kyle Connor– scored 38 goals this season, and is set to be a threat for his third postseason trip. The winger will have to be a key contributor to Winnipeg’s offense and power play in order to keep the jets alive.
CGY- Johnny Gaudreau– Johnny Gaudreau had a slight recession this year, collecting only 58 points in 70 games after recording 99 last season. The quick and elusive forward will have to step it up for the Flames in this series.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers
My pick: EDM -160
I’ll be backing the hometown heavy favorites in this series. The hockey world seems to be hyping the Blackhawks entering this expanded postseason, and I’m gonna take a standpoint on the opposite side. The duo of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid is arguably the best in the league, and although Edmonton’s lineup may be seen as top-heavy, I think they have enough depth to handle a Chicago team that is lucky to be here. Mikko Koskinen has shown flashes of brilliance this year for the Oilers, and I expect him to get the call for the first game in the series. Look for Edmonton’s role players such as Andreas Athanasiou and James Neal to step up big time in assistance with their phenomenal first line. For Chicago, there’s some uncertainty around Corey Crawford’s status. He was just able to join the team after his positive coronavirus test, but he unfortunately missed most of training camp. This isn’t a good sign for the Blackhawks, and they may have to rely on Malcolm Subban early on in the series. I expect the Oilers to wipe the Blackhawks in 3 or 4 games.
Players to watch:
CHI- Dominik Kubalik– The Calder nominee heated up midway through the season for the Blackhawks, and has already established himself as a dangerous goal scorer for the Blackhawks. Chicago’s offense runs thin, so he will have to perform better than most would expect from a rookie in order for the Blackhawks to stick around this postseason.
EDM- Kailer Yamamoto– Kailer Yamamoto got promoted to the Oilers’ roster midseason, playing in only 27 games. In those 27 games, he has 26 points including 11 goals. He’s the type of player that can take the focus away from Draisaitl and McDavid, which is key for Edmonton’s depth at forward.
Minnesota Wild vs Vancouver Canucks
My pick: VAN -125
Similar to the CHI/EDM series, there seems to be some hype around the Wild as underdogs. I’m more split on this series, but I still prefer Vancouver to win at the price of -125. Vancouver is an extremely young and inexperienced team, which could be an issue in the postseason. Regardless, there’s no argument between which team has more skill on offense. The Canucks have the clear advantage in this category, thanks to dangerous playmakers like Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. Jacob Markstrom’s numbers are nothing amazing, but his 2.75 GAA should hold up as long as the team in front of him doesn’t hang him out to dry. Minnesota relies more on their defense than offense, as Kevin Fiala is their leading scorer this season with only 54 points. The Wild don’t have any All-Star players that can take over a series at any moment, and I think their lack of offensive power will cause them to be outmatched by Vancouver. I’m expecting the Canucks to advance to the next round in 4 games.
Players to watch:
MIN- Zach Parise– Parise is one of the most seasoned veterans on this Wild team, and he’s gonna have to be a true leader and offensive contributor if Minnesota has any chance at advancing. With 25 goals in the regular season, expect a lot of shots on goal coming from Parise.
VAN- Brock Boeser– Boeser only played 57 games this year, but posted 45 points. I expect the right winger to average at least a point per game in this series, while being a key contributor to Vancouver’s powerplay as well.
Top 4 Seeding Predictions:
- St. Louis Blues
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Colorado Avalanche
- Dallas Stars
Stanley Cup Outright Bets:
St. Louis Blues +1200
Vegas Golden Knights +800
Winnipeg Jets +6600
Conn Smythe Winner:
Connor Hellebuyck +12500
Mark Stone +3500
Jordan Binnington +2800
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts and predictions for the NHL playoffs, so feel free to tweet at me! My handle is @jrboomtown. Keep an eye out for another article previewing the next round for the Western Conference, once the play-in games and seeding complete.