Let's get ready to rumble in NHL playoffs
Ice hockey in August? Why not?! The NHL season restarts this weekend with a revamped playoff-format and an intriguing set-up, as the “new normal” in sports dictates. All the games are to be played in Canada, Edmonton serving as the host for the Western Conference teams and Toronto hosting the Eastern teams. The playoffs will be played with 24 teams, the top 4 of each conference heading straight to the first round after deciding the seeding in a round-robin group, and the rest of the teams battling in a best-of-five series to determine the other four first round teams. The qualifying round pairs have been decided by the regular season standings at the time of the break.
Top dogs natural favorites
Before the playoffs, the teams gaining a free pass to the first playoff round are of course biggest favorites, but not only because they get to skip one round. The round robin serves as a great match practice and allows the teams a not-so-important stretch to get back in form. For the others, it’s do or die from the beginning – and we are always looking for surprises.
At the moment, Easter Conference is dominating the Stanley Cup winner’s race, with four eastern teams in top six – according to the Vegas’ NHL spreads. Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning share the burden of being favorites with odds of +650 each. Western Conference duo Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche follow, with odds of +800 and +900 respectively. Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and reigning champions St. Louis Blues man the next three positions with odds of +1000 and Dallas Stars compliments the top eight with +1500.
In Accuscore simulations, the round robin between the top teams is extremely even, as expected. However, there’s a small disagreement between the favorites suggested by the odds and Accuscore simulations. The Western side of the stage is dominated by Colorado Avalanche, while the East is taken by Tampa Bay Lightning. In fact, Colorado is the team most likely to go all the way and hoist the Stanley Cup, according to the simulations. But as always, there are plenty of obstacles on the way and countless variables to tackle.
The Best of the Rest
The format makes it rather difficult to challenge the top four of each conference. The first qualification round sees some heated matchups, with teams normally in the playoff-battle at the end of regular season now facing off in a best of five series.
According to Vegas lines, rising from the qualification round to Stanley Cup Champion is not impossible but a rocky road nevertheless. Pittsburgh Penguins, a declining powerhouse of the East, is deemed the most likely team to beat the odds of +1500. The tournament hosts Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs follow further back with the odds of +2300 and +2900.
Interestingly some of the pre-season favorites, such as Nashville Predators (+3500), Calgary Flames (+3700) and Winnipeg Jets (+5000), have fallen from grace in the eyes of Vegas oddsmakers. Indeed, their season’s had been disappointing when the forced break hit, but have they managed to get their act together during the lengthy hiatus?
According to Accuscore’s simulations, yes and no. The Predators are likely to run over Arizona to make it to the first round, where they can challenge any of the top-4 teams. The Flames on the other hand, seem to continue their poor run and allow another challenger, Winnipeg to progress. Jets then get ousted by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, Colorado Avalanche in the first round.
Playoffs Power Ranking
With too many variables still in play to determine the bracket all the way, the easiest and most accurate way to predict the outcome, is to simply use Accuscore’s simulation engine to pit each team against each other and then calculate the results and see who comes on top. Here’s the order of things, if the old sporting cliché “you have to beat everyone to be the champions” would indeed be correct:
- Colorado Avalanche
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- St. Louis Blues
- Boston Bruins
- Edmonton Oilers
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Nashville Predators
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Florida Panthers
- Winnipeg Jets
- Dallas Stars
- Washington Capitals
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Vancouver Canucks
While the ranking follows the odds for Stanley Cup Champions quite closely, there’s still a couple of good selections to go for. First of all, Colorado Avalanche is beating any of their opponents in best of seven series in the simulations. Their odds of +900 are so attractive that there’s a good pick for a surprise winner.
For a bit of a longer shot, the hosting Edmonton could be in for a surprise in the fast and furious playoff-format. Familiar surroundings might give an edge even if there’s not home crowd support. The team is not necessarily best suited for a long regular season and heavy playoff load, but now the tournament is more like a start of the new season. The odds for Oilers hover around +2300, which looks nice and is worth a punt.
Definitely a biggest surprise in the Accuscore simulations comes from Florida. And no, Tampa Bay’s success would not be a surprise. In simulations, Florida Panthers are beating their qualifying round opponents quite easily and fight toe-to-toe with Washington Capitals, prevailing by mere fractions of a percent. But the results show that they can actually beat most of their counterparts, although then being completely outplayed by the top 8 teams. Still, shooting long with the Panthers could be worthwhile with ridiculous +5500 odds.
It is always worth keeping in mind that the first round pairings are yet to be decided and there’s plenty that can change until the Stanley Cup is decided in early October.
But based on what we know, this is where we are at!