It looks like professional hockey is finally coming back, and when it does, it's already going to be playoff time.
Last week, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league's return-to-play plan following the suspension of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic during March.
As part of the announcement, Bettman also said the 2019-20 regular season has been deemed over and that when the league does return to action, it will jump directly into a one-of-a-kind 24-team playoff format.
The potential return of one of the 'Big Four' sports is certainly welcome news for fans and bettors, who are wasting no time getting a look at NHL playoff betting lines at online sportsbooks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states where wagering is legal. Here, we'll detail the format and make some early Stanley Cup betting predictions.
When Is NHL Coming Back?
Even though NHL is the closest of the major North American leagues to come back, there is still no official date for a return to play. What we do have, however, are some details about the four-phase plan that needs to be executed in order to get hockey back:
- Two hub cities (to be announced at a later date) will be chosen based on their ability to safely accommodate a dozen teams in one location. Currently, the league is looking at up to 10 cities as candidates.
- Each team will be limited to 50 personnel in addition to a small support staff and a comprehensive COVID-19 testing system will be put in place
- Currently, we are in Phase 1 of the four-phase plan. Phase 2 is expected to begin in early June while Phase 3 is targeted for early July and would feature the start of training camp
- Phase 4 has no exact target date but will include the commencement of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, featuring round-robins and a play-in round before the 'First Round' begins.
NHL Return To Play Format
Perhaps the most interesting part of the NHL's plan for a return is its solution to the issue of the standings.
Since every team hadn't played the same number of games (between 68 and 71), the league decided to expand the playoffs to 24 teams rather than the customary 16 and adopted a pretty unique plan.
In this format, the top four teams in each conference are given a bye into the 'First Round' without having to qualify. These teams will play a round-robin to determine one through four seedings while the fifth through 12th-place clubs will take part in a play-in series to determine who advances to the opening round.
Here is how the current bracket looks:
2020 NHL Playoff Betting Predictions: Who Will Lift The Stanley Cup?
Making NHL playoff bets at this stage is definitely tough considering that so much is still unknown, such as how the one through four seedings will shake out and the matchups created by results of the play-in series.
Add in the fact that the NHL playoffs are already known for having an incredible amount of parity in comparison to other pro leagues. In a normal 16-team playoff, we've seen the very last seed in a given conference raise the Stanley Cup, which doesn't happen much often.
Let's get a look at the odds for some of the top teams from BetMGM Sportsbook, has quickly become one of the leading online betting sites in Colorado, New Jersey, Indiana, and West Virginia
This time around, things could be even more difficult due to the long layoff and the fact that there are more questions than answers. With all that said, there's plenty of value to be had despite the fact that winning any money from NHL betting predictions will be contingent upon getting a little bit lucky as well.
Here are a few teams to consider for your 2020 Stanley Cup predictions based on the format and the current standings:
- Tampa Bay Lightning (+600)
It feels like 10 years ago, but it was really just last April that the Bolts got swept as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Heading into the postseason, there shouldn't be many teams more motivated than Tampa Bay, which will be one of the top four seeds in the East.
The Lightning may be one of the teams that wind up benefitting from the long layoff in more ways than one. This team wasn't playing its best hockey in the weeks before the break and now that some time has passed, the Bolts should get captain Steven Stamkos and Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman back in time for the postseason.
The value isn't great but the team still is, and shopping around could net better odds depending on the site. In fact, if you're looking to wager on the Lightning you can sign up for DraftKings and get a slight upgrade to +650.
- Colorado Avalanche (+800)
There isn't much to say here other than the fact that the Avalanche are probably the very best team in the West, which is why it's headed to the round-robin round and has the lowest odds in the conference to raise the cup.
The Avs finished two points behind the champion Blues with one game in hand and had the season gone 82 games, they could've easily won the Central. Impressively, 41 of the team's 42 wins have come in regulation, showing this team isn't just benefitting from 3-on-3 overtime or the shootout.
Led by MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado is one of the few teams in the NHL to rank in the top five in scoring offense and defense, and will also get starting goalie Philipp Grubauer back from injury when the playoffs begin. Not a ton of value, but the best bet of any team in the West.
- Dallas Stars (+1500)
If we are can go back to speaking of teams that may have been helped by the timing of the long break, let's check in on the Dallas Stars. Despite skidding before the stoppage, we see value on a team with the juiciest odds of any club in the top eight, according to most NJ online betting sites.
Dallas began the season 1-7-1 in October and lost six in a row leading into the break. That's an appalling 1-13-1 in 15 of the team's 69 games. Still, it holds a top-three spot in a competitive Central Division and managed to be 13 games over .500.
The Stars are the definition of a wild card but at +1500 and talent all over the ice, the value is there for a team that lost in Game 7 of the conference semifinals to the eventual champion. Plus, there's an outside chance Dallas gets chosen as one of the hub cities.
Shop around as always but if your goal is to take a shot with Dallas, sign up for BetMGM to get +1500 because the payout is lower at most other legal betting sites.
- New York Rangers (+4000)
If looking for a heavy longshot to take a swing with, consider the Broadway Blueshirts, one of several teams with odds around +4000. Making it through the conference will be no bargain, hence the high odds, but can you ever really rule out huge upsets in the NHL postseason?
Judging by New York's success against Carolina, we like it to get past the play-in round and meet the No. 3 seed in the East. From there, the top four clubs are getting a late start in meaningful games. The Rangers have the offensive proficiency to take advantage, and one more run for Henrik Lundqvist in goal would be a joy to watch if he got the call.