Excitement is mounting among hockey fans as they look forward to the postponed NHL season resuming on August 1. An expanded 24-team playoff will take place in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, and a Stanley Cup champion should be crowned in early October. These are the key talking points as the players gear up for a return to the ice.
Can a Canadian Team Triumph on Home Soil?
The odds on the Oilers or the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup dropped after Edmonton and Toronto were revealed as the hub cities for the playoffs. Six Canadian teams are still standing among the final group of 24, but Edmonton and Toronto look best placed to seize glory during the age of contagion. They will not have home fans to roar them on, but they will be benefiting from familiar conditions and staying in their own cities during the playoffs. Keeping Hart Trophy frontrunner Leon Draisaitl and the world-class Connor McDavid free from injury will be crucial for the Oilers, as they have combined for 77 goals and 130 assists. If they maintain their elite levels and stay healthy, Edmonton could be dangerous. Toronto will welcome back Ilya Mikheyev and Jake Muzzin, and if the Leafs can get past the Lightning they will be in with a chance. Vancouver looks like a dark horse, as it has a talented roster and is strong in the net, but lacks experience.
Is Age a Concern for Boston?
The Bruins and the Lightning are the joint-favourites for Stanley Cup glory in the hockey betting after fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference throughout the regular season. Boston had won 16 of 20 games before the season was paused, and led the league in wins, regulation wins and goal differential. The Bruins seem hell-bent on erasing the painful memory of last year’s Stanley Cup final defeat to the Blues, and they look like the team to beat. The only concern is the age of their key players. Tuukka Rask is 33, Jaroslav Halak is 35, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are both 34, captain Zdeno Chara is 43 and several others are over 30. That experience could prove crucial in the latter stages of the playoffs, but there is a danger that they may be caught cold straight after the restart. They will face a talented, youthful team in the Lightning, and dangerous opponents like the Flyers and the Caps are poised to offer a fierce challenge, so their chief concern will be getting out of that round-robin. If the can win their conference, they should go on and lift the Stanley Cup.
Will the Break Derail Teams’ Momentum?
Several teams were surging with momentum before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the season juddering to a halt. The Flyers were 9-1 in their last 10 games before play was suspended, which carried them up to fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Blues and the Golden Knights were both 8-2, and those teams now face a stern challenge to regain that momentum. Philadelphia boasts an impressive 5-3-1 regular-season record against the teams in its head-to-head – Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington – and it could cause that vaunted trio plenty of problems if it recaptures the magic. Coach-of-the-year candidate Alain Vigneault will be tasked with firing up his troops, and the same is true of Jon Cooper and Peter DeBoer, who has galvanized Vegas since taking over from Gerard Gallant.
Which Teams Might Struggle Without Fans?
Home-ice advantage has been important for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Vancouver this season. The Blue Jackets were 20-16-4 at home and 13-21-11 on the road, so they may struggle without their fans roaring them on in big playoff games. Vancouver could face a similar situation, as it was 22-13-4 at Rogers Arena, and 14-20-2 away on its travels. On the other hand, teams like Boston, Tampa Bay and St. Louis are consistently strong wherever they play, and others seem to enjoy going on the road. The Avalanche and the Caps have both been a lot stronger away than at home this season, and that could stand them in good stead in the playoffs.
Will Max Domi Suit Up for the Canadiens?
Domi has delayed a decision on whether he will represent the Habs for seven to 10 days while he assesses the situation. He has Type 1 diabetes and is therefore considered a high-risk individual, so he will naturally be keen to protect himself and he may sit it out. The Montreal forward has been an important player for his team this season, contributing 7 goals and 27 assists in 71 games. He would be missed if he could not compete, but staying safe is clearly the main priority. Very few players have opted out of the restart, but the Flames will have to do without blueliner Travis Hamonic, who cited health concerns surrounding his young daughter.
Could the Stars Emerge Rejuvenated?
The Stars’ season looked on the brink of imploding after they lost six games in a row before play was suspended. They have now had time to regroup and plot a deep run into the playoffs, so they could emerge stronger when the season resumes. Dallas was second in the league for defense, allowing just 2.52 goals per game, and if the magnificent rookie Denis Gurianov continues banging in the goals it could be a really dangerous dark horse in the Western Conference.
Which Teams Will Benefit from Returning Players?
Some players that thought their seasons were overdue to injury have now been given a reprieve as a result of the lengthy delay. Tampa Bay should be able to welcome captain Steven Stamkos back, which will be massive for the team. The return of Jake Guentzel could prove crucial for a Pittsburgh team that boasts a stacked offense. The Flyers might be able to select Nolan Patrick once again, but that is by no means a given. A clean bill of health for the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Dzingel and James Reimer could be a game-changer for the Hurricanes, significantly enhancing their chances of success.
The Blue Jackets can welcome back leading defenseman Seth Jones and the dangerous Cam Atkinson, while both goalies will be healthy. The Avalanche looked seriously banged up before the break, so a pause to the season should prove beneficial. Star winger Mark Stone is back in contention for Vegas. Chris Tanev will give Vancouver a boost. The Blues and the Bruins have played a lot of hockey over the past year, so the pause could also help them reset. Returning players could have a massive impact. However, on the flipside, players could be susceptible to more injuries upon the restart if they lack fitness, so the coaching teams have a lot of work to do between now and the start of August.
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