NHL 2020-21 predictions: Playoff picks and Stanley Cup winner originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The 2020-21 NHL season is officially here! So let's waste no time and dive right into playoff predictions:
The Lightning and Hurricanes are virtual locks; the other two seeds are up for grabs. The Predators have real bounce-back potential if they can put it all together and the Blue Jackets, who were decimated with injuries last season, are one of the top defensive teams with a terrific goaltending duo in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins.
The reigning Stanley Cup runner-up Stars are going to be without Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin until at least March, and that's going to be too difficult to overcome in a shortened 56-game schedule.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
2. Washington Capitals
3. Boston Bruins
Somebody in this division is going to miss out on the playoffs that don't deserve to. It came down to the Penguins and Islanders for the fourth spot, and who's betting against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both of whom are as fresh as ever after a lengthy offseason?
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Edmonton Oilers
This division is going to be a real dog-fight. The Maple Leafs are in their own tier (barely), and the next five spots are practically interchangeable.
The bet here is that Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames rebound after an off year and the goaltending is better with the signing of Jacob Markstrom.
The Canadiens have arguably the best goaltending tandem in Jake Allen and Carey Price while the Oilers have two of the best players in the world in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, both of whom might finish first and second in scoring.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Minnesota Wild
The first three spots will go to the Avalanche, Blues and Golden Knights; it's the order in which they finish that's the real question.
For me, the fourth seed came down to the Coyotes, Sharks and Wild, and I'm rolling with GM Bill Guerin's new-look team because it's the least flawed roster among the remaining five teams.
Avalanche over Predators
Canadiens over Capitals
The Predators were one of the top even-strength teams last season but had a brutal special teams (25th in power play and 29th in penalty kill) and that's a big reason why they underachieved. If they can get back to being at least average in both areas, the Predators can be a legitimate threat. But not enough to get past the Avalanche, who will be too much to handle.
The Canadiens were, statistically, the best puck possession team at 5-on-5 last season after leading the NHL in shot attempts and inner slot shots. The problem is, they didn't have any finishers. The additions of Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli and a healthy Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher give the Canadiens a strong four-line rotation in front of Allen and Price, who posted a .936 save percentage in 10 postseason contests.
Avalanche over Canadiens
I tried talking myself out of the trendy pick but couldn't do it. The Avalanche were already the favorites going into the offseason, and then they acquired two-time Stanley Cup champion Brandon Saad and top-four defenseman Devon Toews without subtracting from their roster. If they can stay remotely healthy, I don't see anyone getting in the way of the Avalanche.