Joel Dorcas | June 3rd, 2020
It finally appears that one of the four major sports will be making its long-awaited return this summer. The NHL is in the process of putting all the necessary pieces in place to crown a Stanley Cup Champion. To conclude the 2019-2020 season, the League will put together a 24 Team Tournament. They will forgo the approximate 12 games most teams had remaining. The best four teams in each Conference will get free passes to start in the next round(round of 16). Teams seeded 12 to five will play a best of five to decide who gets to advance. In preparation of the Tournament, let’s take a look at my Rankings, we will first start with the Eastern Conference.
12. Montreal Canadiens(31-31-9)
The Canadiens de Montreal had, all things considered, a decent season based on expectations. They began the season with a surge with everyone at 100 percent health. Injuries to Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron along with Carey Price being lesser than his normal self all led to the Habs winning just 19 regular season games in regulation, the fewest of all 24 teams in the tournament. They also carry the worst goals for/agaisnt differential of -9.
11. New York Islanders(35-23-10)
The Islanders will need to come together with a renewed focus after the long hiatus. Before the break, they somehow reeled off seven consecutive losses. Big contributions from Mathew Barzal and newly acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau will be keys to success, as well as playing Bary Trotz’s defensive-first style.
10. Carolina Hurricanes(38-25-5)
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the Canes, but a play-in round against the upstart New York Rangers could mean an early exit. Not too sure the goaltending duo of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer can get the job done. And what form of defenseman Dougie Hamilton will they get(if he returns)?
9. Florida Panthers(35-26-8)
Don’t sleep on the Florida Panthers. Think of the possibilities if goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky reverts to the Bobrovsky of old. This is an exciting team led by Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov that can score in bunches. If Bobrovsky can step up huge and make up for the lack of defense, this team can steal a couple of rounds.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs(36-25-9)
It’s the same old story for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Amongst the best when it comes to putting pucks in the net and among the worst at keeping pucks out. A steady and healthy return to the lineup from Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly could go a long way in changing the narrative. A rested Frederik Andersen will also be huge.
7. New York Rangers(37-28-5)
This is perhaps the most interesting and exciting team of the bunch. The big question is if they can pick up where they left off. Over their last 21 games before the break, they built up an impressive 13-7-1 record. Mika Zibanejad reeled off an incredible 17 goals in his last 14 games. Artemi Panarin sits third overall in league scoring with 95 points. Defensemen, Anthony DeAngelo and Adam Fox have exceeded expectations. This is a dangerous team on the rise.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets(33-22-15)
Head coach John Tortorella has done an amazing job with the Jackets. You have to give this organization a lot of credit for staying afloat with the numerous injuries they have endured this year. Built around solid goaltending and a top-notch defense, this team could be in for a long playoff run. Keep in mind, their forward group is likely to get a lot better with the expected returns of players that were injured (Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson). Stud defenseman Seth Jones‘s return will make the defensive core even stronger as well.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6)
A well-rested Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin along with the likely return of injured forward Jake Guentzel easily make the Penguins a legitimate threat of going the distance. The team’s core has plenty of experience and talent to match up with any opponent.
4.Washington Capitals (41-20-8)
Another team that welcomed a break are the Washington Capitals. Before the pause in action, the Caps were just 6-8-3 in their last 17 games, averaging 2.88 goals for and 3.53 goals against per contest. There is no shortage of star-power here, amongst others, defenseman John Carlson(75 pts in 69 games), and Alex Ovechkin(48 goals in 68 games) lead the way offensively. Goaltender Braden Holtby will have to be much better if this squad is to make any noise.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7)
The 2020 Flyers have a 2019 St.Louis Blues vibe going. They have heated up over the second half portion of the season, similarly as the Blues did last year. Philly boasts a .778 point percentage since February 1st, which ranks first, tied with Boston. The Flyers have scored a league-best 3.94 goals per game while allowing just 2.33 goals against(fourth) over the time frame.
2. Boston Bruins (44-14-12)
Can anyone stop or neutralize the best trio in the league? Patrice Bergeron, the least talked about of the three, is the teams most valuable in terms of being a game-changer at both ends of the ice. If teams can at least contain Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak the lack of depth at Forward could cost them. The Bruins defensive game style, however, lends itself well for playoff hockey.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6)
There will be plenty of motivation for the Bolts to put it all together this postseason after last year’s first-round surprise exit to the eighth-seeded Blue Jackets. The health of team captain Steven Stamkos will be an important piece to the puzzle if Tampa is to go far. The Lightning has it all, elite scoring and depth, a great defensive core, and superb goaltending with Andrei Vasilevsky manning the crease. Is this the year they finally put it all together?
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images