NHL Return To Play Predictions

Brayton Wilson
August 01, 2020 - 2:30 am

After a few days of exhibition hockey to get the juices flowing again, the return of hockey is officially here.

Saturday officially kicks off the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and the seeding round-robin tournaments to commence Phase 4 of the NHL's Return To Play plan. This moment finally comes more than four months after the NHL was forced to shut down its 2019-20 regular season on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This unique playoff format will see 24 of the league's 31 teams competing for the chance to win the Stanley Cup compared to the usual 16 teams (eight per-conference) that qualify for the playoffs on an annual basis. With many teams completing nearly 85% of their scheduled games this season, the NHL expanded its playoff format to include some teams that were still in contention but sitting just outside of the playoff picture.

A total of seven teams missed out on the playoffs this year as the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres failed to qualify to compete in Toronto, Ontario or Edmonton, Alberta this summer.

As for the format of this Return To Play plan, the top-four teams in each conference will compete in a round-robin style tournament for the right to earn the top seed in the conference playoffs. Meanwhile, the other eight teams in each conference will battle in a best-of-five series for the chance to advance to the Conference Quarterfinal Round.

Here is how the matchups look in the qualifying round:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Round-Robin:

1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Washington Capitals
4. Philadelphia Flyers

5 - Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 12 - Montreal Canadiens

6 - Carolina Hurricanes vs. 11 - New York Rangers

7 - New York Islanders vs. 10 - Florida Panthers

8 - Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 9 - Columbus Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Round-Robin:

1. St. Louis Blues
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Vegas Golden Knights
4. Dallas Stars

5 - Edmonton Oilers vs. 12 - Chicago Blackhawks

6 - Nashville Predators vs. 11 - Arizona Coyotes

7 - Vancouver Canucks vs. 10 - Minnesota Wild

8 - Calgary Flames vs. 9 - Winnipeg Jets

From there, the winners of the qualifying round will advance to face the top-four teams in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, who will be seeded based on the results of the round-robin tournament. After the qualifying round, the playoffs will be re-seeded for both the first and second round, unlike in normal years where it is just a bracketed format.

The losers in the qualifying round will then be entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery, which will be for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, where forward Alexis Lafrenière is the consensus player to go with the first pick.

So how will things play out in the playoffs? Who will hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of this tournament?

Here's a look at each team and how they look heading into the playoffs:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

1. Boston Bruins

The 2020 Presidents' Trophy winners are primed once again to make a deep run in the playoffs and get back to the Stanley Cup Final after getting bounced by the St. Louis Blues last year. They finished the 2019-20 regular season with the most points in the standings, while being one of the best two-way teams in the NHL.

Their offense finished eighth in scoring and was able to get plenty of scoring chances throughout the season. The power play was also among the top units in the NHL this season, only ranking second behind the Oilers. David Pastrnak finished with 48 goals this season, along with Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, to lead the league in scoring.

The defense in front of the goaltender tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak was solid, limiting the opposition to an average of 30 shots per-game. The penalty kill was also very good this season, finishing the year as the third-best unit. Meanwhile, Rask and Halak combined to put up the lowest goals-against average this season, earning them the William M. Jennings Trophy this season.

If the team can stay healthy, find some more depth scoring behind the first line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak, and shut down the opposition's speed, this team should be able to seed quite well as a result of the seeding round-robin. After that, the road to the Stanley Cup Final will be, perhaps, more challenging than the year before.

Chances: Pretty good.

2) Tampa Bay Lightning

After being embarrassed in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs after one of the most historic regular seasons in NHL history, the Lightning have been anticipating this moment to get back to the postseason and exact some revenge.

The Lightning are stacked offensively with the highest-scoring group in the NHL, averaging 3.47 goals per-game while averaging just 31.1 shots per-game. While Nikita Kucherov was no where near the production he was at last season, he still finished the season as the team's leading scorer with 85 points (33+52) in 68 games. Others like Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point averaged more or near the point per-game mark this season, while Victor Hedman chipped in plenty from the blue line.

Defensively, Tampa Bay got off to a slow start early in the season, but managed to rebound nicely and finish the year strong. Andrei Vasilevskiy was outstanding in net once again for the Lightning, leading the NHL in wins (35) while also posting a 2.56 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. His performance was enough to earn him his third consecutive finalist bid for the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender.

However, the biggest issue that could face the Lightning is health. Stamkos was banged up for training camp and did not get much work in leading up to the round-robin tournament. While he is expected to be ready to go come Saturday, he may be playing at less than 100%. If they can stay healthy with their biggest pieces, they have the most formidable

Also, it will be key to try not to choke again and repeat the performance of 2019.

Chances: Extremely good.

3) Washington Capitals

Washington has the speed and the scoring capabilities to keep up with any team that they face in the playoffs. Ovechkin finished tied atop the goal scoring race in the NHL once again with 48 goals at the time of the season shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While no one else scored more than 30 goals on the season, Washington still has the talents of Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and even John Carlson, who provided 15 goals from the blue line.

The defense was suspect at times this season, but as long as they can get the offense and sustainable goaltending from Braden Holtby in net, it should not be too much of an issue.

However, if Holtby is shaky at all or he goes down to injury, they Capitals will have to turn to Pheonix Copley or Vitek Vanecek in net after 2015 first round pick Ilya Samsonov went down with an injury this offseason in Russia and did not pass his physical. Not an ideal situation.

Chances: Pretty good.

4) Philadelphia Flyers

There may have been no hotter team in the NHL at the time of the suspension of the regular season than the Flyers. Right out of the NHL All-Star break, Philadelphia went on a 14-3-1 run in 18 games, which included a nine-game winning streak.

The offense really came to life at the end of the year with a number of young players stepping up and contributing with the veterans like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Travis Konecny has become an offensive juggernaut for this Flyers team, while Sean Couturier supplanted himself as one of the best two-way centermen in the NHL.

Philadelphia has some very good pieces defensively, including youngsters Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim, and the support given to young goalie Carter Hart has been detrimental in his development as one of the best up-and-coming netminders in the NHL. 

Like many teams in this playoff, health will be a factor if this team wants to make a deep run. But if they can regain the fire they had under them just before the shutdown, look out.

Chances: Sneaky good.

5) Pittsburgh Penguins

This team knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup on a regular basis. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang and Matt Murray in net, this group can lead the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Final as long as they don't falter.

However, goaltending may be their biggest question mark heading into the postseason with the uncertainties of Murray and Tristan Jarry. While their statistics may not look so bad, they both had their ups-and-downs on the season. If one or the other can take the reins and steer the Penguins in the right direction, they should be fine.

Pittsburgh was the one team that likely benefited the most from the stoppage in terms of health. Guentzel was able to benefit the most as he returns from a shoulder ailment, while the rest of the group was able to recover and get re-charged for this summer. If health can stay on their side, this team has what it takes to win it all once again.

Chances: Fairly good.

6) Carolina Hurricanes

This team has got what it takes to surprise many around the league with a deep playoff run like last year. The Hurricanes made it to the Eastern Conference Final last season, only to be swept by the Bruins and miss out on a chance to win a second Stanley Cup. 

The offense was very good this year, led by youngsters Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen, while the rest of the lineup chipped in and did their part. The defensive group may be one of the best in the NHL with players like Jaccob Slavin, Jake Gardiner, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Joel Edmundson, but injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce could hinder their chances of advancing.

In addition, the goaltending continues to be a giant question mark with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. Which of the two can carry the load in the playoffs, and if one can't be able to shut the door, can the other one be reliable enough to get the job done?

If everything gets clicking and the injuries can be handled, the Hurricanes can make some serious noise.

Chances: Sneaky good.

7) New York Islanders

While the Islanders are not a flashy team under head coach Barry Trotz, they are definitely one of the best shut down teams in the league with their style of play.

Mathew Barzal and company can certainly put the puck in the net and produce quality scoring chances on a daily basis, the defensive system in place can be the key to a possible deep run for the Islanders in these playoffs. If the team is not scoring, they can rely on the defense and goaltending to be able to carry them through. 

Goaltending may be the biggest question mark with this team as who will get the majority of playing time, Semyon Varlamov or Thomas Greiss? Both are capable of being starting-caliber goalies in this league, but someone has to take the reins.

If they happen to play their cards right throughout the playoffs, a deep run for the Islanders is not out of the question.

Chances: Fairly good.

8) Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto is such a complex team.

The offensive firepower they posses is, perhaps, among the best the NHL has to offer with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen. They have plenty of depth behind those players as well to be a dynamic offensive threat from top-to-bottom in these playoffs.

However, the defense in front of goalie Frederik Andersen is suspect, even with a player like Morgan Rielly, who may be one of the better defensemen in the NHL. They have left the Maple Leafs goaltenders out to dry on numerous occasions this season, and if the offense can't do enough to help support some shotty defensive work, look out.

While Andresen has been good, at times, this season, he has also had his struggles in net with just a .909 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average. However, if he goes down or really does not play well, Toronto's other options are Jack Campbell, Kasimir Kaskisuo and Joseph Woll. Not too great of options.

The key will be to have a collected unit of play from the team in order to have any chance. If the defense cannot support the goal scoring or the goaltending, it won't be pretty.

Chances: Uncertain.

9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Like the Penguins, the Blue Jackets really benefited from the break to get some bodies healthy and ready for the playoffs.

The three key pieces that are back from injury for the postseason are defenseman Seth Jones and forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson, while others like Alexandre Texier, Dean Kukan, Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray and Joonas Korpisalo are all possible impact players to return from the injured report.

With a full healthy lineup, this gives head coach John Tortorella more options to play around with and gives his team some weapons all around the ice.

The Blue Jackets are a fast team that plays a pretty solid game all around. Even though they lost some key members of the 2019 playoff run like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, this team somehow found a way to compete for the playoffs and be a potential surprise contender this summer. It's a huge reason why Tortorella was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year.

The question heading into play will be: Who will start in goal? Will it be Korpisalo, who played like a starting netminder before an injury took him out of the lineup, or will it be Elvis Merzlikins, who absolutely stood out and carried the load for Columbus in Korpisalo's absence?

Don't sleep on this Columbus team, who seem to have all the right pieces to potentially make a deep run in the postseason.

Chances: Underrated.

10) Florida Panthers

When the Panthers are on their game, they are fierce, ferocious and untamable. However, when they are out of sync and struggling, they are no more terrifying than a house cat.

Florida's offense is stacked with weapons like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, and plenty of other depth pieces that are more than capable of contributing. The defense is solid with a catalyst player like Aaron Ekblad leading the way along with Keith Yandle. 

However, will we see the Bobrovsky of old when he was a Vezina Trophy winner, or will we continue to see the Bobrovsky of now that has drastically struggled? This season saw the 31-year-old veteran put up a 23-19-6 record, but record an awful 3.23 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

If he can't carry the load for Florida, head coach Joel Quenneville may have to turn to young netminders Samuel Montembeault or Chris Driedger, who are very much unproven talents.

This team will be in trouble if they played like they did in their exhibition game against the Lightning, where they were blanked 5-0 and looked completely flat.

Chances: Meh.

11) New York Rangers

This team is an intriguing one with the way their rebuild has gone this season.

The Rangers did better than most people had expected of them this season, but it helped when you had Panarin performing like a league MVP with 95 points (32+63) in 69 games. Others like Mika Zibanejad really developed into a franchise center-type of player while Ryan Strome, Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich stepped up to lead a young group of growing players on their roster.

While the defense was so-so for a good portion of the season, it seems as though the Rangers have a new up-and-coming netminder in Igor Shesterkin that seems ready to take the reins from Henrik Lundqvist. In just 12 games in New York this season, the 24-year-old went 10-2-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. Very impressive.

If the Rangers can get some solid goaltending in the qualifying round from Shesterkin and find a way to outscore the Hurricanes, they could easily find themselves in the Quarterfinal Round as an upset team.

Chances: Alright.

12) Montreal Canadiens

This is a team that definitely needs Carey Price to come in the clutch and shut down everyone to have any slight chance of contending.

The Canadiens were very inconsistent all season, had two separate eight-game losing streaks, and was a team that was selling off players at the NHL Trade Deadline. In addition, their 19 regulation wins this season ranked third-worst in the NHL, only ahead of the Red Wings and Senators.

They had no intentions of playing in any sort of playoffs until this format came along, where they just barely got in. 

If Carey Price plays at an MVP level like he has in the past, then maybe this team can do enough to score goals and upset the Penguins in the play-in round. If not, it will be surely an early exit.

Chances: Need a prayer.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

1) St. Louis Blues

While the Blues were not a dynamic team all season, the defending Stanley Cup champions certainly still has what it takes to win it all for a second-consecutive season.

Ryan O'Reilly and Brayden Schenn were a dynamic 1-2 punch down the middle with some very solid play in both ends of the ice. Jaden Schwartz continues to bring offensive production from the wing, while veteran David Perron still knows how to be an efficient asset in the top-six. The rest of the offense did their part like they did last season, bringing production at every turn and supporting each other all over the ice.

This was also all done without the services of star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who is healthy and should be all set to return to the Blues' lineup by the play-in round.

Defensively, Alex Pietrangelo had a Norris Trophy-like season with 16 goals and 52 points from the blue line, while others like Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn had solid campaigns.

Jordan Binnington proved all his doubters wrong this season with a solid 2019-20 campaign. He posted a 30-13-7 record in 50 games played with a solid 2.56 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Jake Allen wasn't so bad too in a backup role, but it will be Binnington looking to prove that he can, once again, be a backstop for the Blues on another Stanley Cup run.

Chances: Can definitely repeat.

2) Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche took advantage of the time off from the COVID-19 pandemic to get healthy as well, with key players like Mikko Rantanen, Joonas Donskoi and Philipp Grubauer set to return for the playoffs.

Nathan MacKinnon is a finalist for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award this season, as expected, after a 93-point campaign (35+58) in 69 games for the Avalanche this season. He has really started to enter the discussion of the best-of-the-best players in the NHL with Crosby and Connor McDavid with his elite speed, his offensive finish, and his excellent awareness all over the ice. The 24-year-old is already being pegged as a player who can be able to carry his team to a championship this year if he finds that next level of his game.

While MacKinnon has been a very valuable piece to his team's success, others on the offense will need to stay healthy and step up their own games if they are to be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup Final. Even though they were one of the top scoring teams in the league, Colorado could use a boost in play from players like Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, Nazen Kadri, J.T. Compher and others as they get ready to play in the play-in round.

The defense in Colorado may have one of the best up-and-coming pieces in the group in Cale Makar, who finished second in team scoring with 50 points (12+38) in 57 games and is a favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year. The rest of the group is comprised of youth and veteran leadership like Erik Johnson and Ian Cole, which is plenty enough to be able to play strong hockey in front of the goaltending.

Goaltending shouldn't be much of an issue for the Avalanche as Grubauer is a solid force as a starting netminder, while Pavel Francouz has established himself as one of the more reliable backup goalies in the entire league.

If everything is clicking for the Avalanche throughout the playoffs, they should be able to go on a very deep run.

Chances: Very good.

3) Vegas Golden Knights

Is 2020 the year where the Golden Knights can rekindle some of their playoff magic from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

A good portion of the team in that 2018 run still remains with players like Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Alex Tuch all still there. Meanwhile, they were able to add some great talents like Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, who add that much more to the team to make them a dangerous threat. Their depth on the roster is also plenty for the Golden Knights to be able to contend for not only a top-seed in the playoffs, but also make that deep run.

The defense is still nothing flashy with their best blue liners, arguably, being Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt. However, an added piece like Alec Martinez will certainly give that unit that little more jam in both ends of the ice.

Where the Golden Knights have the biggest advantage over anyone else in the playoffs is in goal with not one, but two top-level goaltenders in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. Vegas could be able to split the games in goal between the two and probably be just fine with either one. It will be interesting to see how they sort things out in that department.

Unless fate hands them a cruel and unusual ending to their season like last year at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, this team should be in good spirits.

Chances: Very good.

4) Dallas Stars

While offense may not be the name of the game in Dallas, defense and stellar goaltending has been what has supported the Stars all season long.

Tyler Seguin led the Stars in scoring this year with just 50 points (17+33), while Jamie Benn was second with only 39 points (19+20) in 69 games. In fact, the Stars finished as the third-lowest scoring team in the league this season, only ahead of the Red Wings and the Kings. If the Stars were to do more damage in the playoffs this year, they need more from not only their top producers in the lineup, but also from key players like Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, Alexander Radulov and Corey Perry.

Defensively, the team is  solid with youngster like Miro Heiskanen and veteran John Klingberg leading the way. Others like Esa Lindell have also stepped up their game this season, but they will need more from players like Andrej Sekera, Jamie Oleksiak and Stephen Johns.

However, it was the excellent goaltending once again from Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin that put the Stars over the top. were the second-best tandem in the league in goals-against average (2.52) and goals allowed (174).

If Bishop can be able to carry the load in goal, it's likely that Dallas can make some noise again in the playoffs. However, they need the offense to follow and badly.

Chances: Pretty good.

5) Edmonton Oilers

Two players will likely make the difference for Edmonton in the playoffs: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

While McDavid may not be up for any awards this season, he remains, arguably, the best player in the NHL with this speed, his vision, his footwork, and his incredible gifted talents with the puck on his stick. Draisaitl, on the other hand, is up for both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award this year following an incredible 110-point campaign (43+67) in 71 games this season. As long as these two can continue to pack a punch offensively, the rest of the group should follow. 

However, it certainly wouldn't hurt for some other offensive pieces to step up their game in this playoff.

The Oilers actually have some nice defensive pieces in place to be able to contribute offensively while being solid in their own zone to give them a chance every night.

Where the biggest question lies is in goal with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Can either guy prove they can be consistent enough options to help Edmonton potentially win a Stanley Cup on home ice in Edmonton? With the Oilers facing the Blackhawks in the play-in round, why not try Koskinen, who was statistically better in goal in three less games than Smith. It's not really much of a difference, but it's worth a shot.

If the goaltending can be figured out and McDavid and Draisaitl continue to tear the competition apart, it may be hard to stop the Oilers.

Chances: Fairly good.

6) Nashville Predators

Despite being a sixth-seed in the play-in round, it certainly felt like this year was not the season Nashville had anticipated. The Predators were very much a middling team this season offensively, defensively, and with goaltending, but still managed to finish 36-25-8 this season.

Where the Predators are their strongest is on defense, once again, with Roman Josi leading the way with an incredible 65 points (16+49) in 69 games this season. He led Nashville in scoring in the 2019-20 season, while Ryan Ellis also finished in the top-five of scoring with 38 points (8+30) in just 49 games. Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro have also been solid top-four defensemen for this team, while the depth with Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber and others having not played bad either.

Up front, Filip Forsberg was the leading offensive scorer, but 21 goals and 27 assists for 48 points, but he did not meet expectations this season, along with players like Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and others.

Pekka Rinne has always been such a reliable force in net for the Predators, winning the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender just two years ago. However, this season was a sign of major regression for him with an 18-14-4 record, a 3.17 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage. Juuse Saros was better this season as the backup, but still struggled at times himself with a 17-12-4 record, a 2.70 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. 

If Rinne struggles at all in the playoffs, the Predators will have to look to Saros and hope he can fortify the net. If the offense cannot find ways to score and win hockey games, it could result in an early exit.

Chances: Overrated.

7) Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks are starting to look more and more like a decent roster all around, but it will be hard to see this team advancing any further than Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Elias Pettersson is quickly becoming one of the best playmakers in the NHL with his formidable shot and offensive talent. J.T. Miller had a breakout season in a top line role, leading the Canucks with 72 points (27+45) in 69 games. Meanwhile, others like Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson, and Jake Virtanen all had significantly good seasons in the shortened year. The addition of Tyler Toffoli at the trade deadline was also a significant move for Vancouver's offense.

One benefit for the Canucks is that they will get a healthy Brock Boeser in the lineup for the play-in round after he missed 12 games due to a rib cartilage fracture that was feared to be worse than it was.

Quinn Hughes has firmly established himself as one of the best young defensemen in the league this season with 53-point campaign (8+45) that earned him a finalist nod for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. The defense was also anchored by some decent play from veterans Alex Edler, Tyler Myers and a fully heathy Chris Tanev, for once.

Goaltending is not in bad shape for the Canucks as well with Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, but Markstrom will definitely get the nod going forward.

The Canucks may be able to surprise some if they get some decent play from top-to-bottom. But again, the competition and experience in the West around them may be too much in the end.

Chances: Alright.

8) Calgary Flames

It always seems like the Flames are right on the edge of contention on a regular basis, but this year just didn't seem like they had enough to really make waves come the playoffs.

Matthew Tkachuk led the way offensively with 61 points (23+38) in 69 games this season and really took another step in his development as a pro. Elias Lindholm also didn't have a bad season in Calgary with a team-leading 29 goals. However, the Flames still need more from some of their top players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund in order to seriously contend.

Mark Giordano led the way defensively once again for Calgary, and Rasmus Andersson made his mark in the starting lineup. But the group overall certainly could have done better instead of being another middling group in the NHL.

In net, both David Rittich and Cam Talbot were solid, but they will need to step up their game if they want to get past a Jets team that has the offensive firepower.

The Flames will need some fire in their game, pun intended, in order to get past Winnipeg and be a contender in the West.

Chances: Meh.

9) Winnipeg Jets

The only concern the Jets should have entering the playoffs this year is the defense and whether or not they can limit the chances against goalie Connor Hellebuyck and make life easier for him in net.

Although, statistically, the Jets' offense was in the middle of the pack, there's no denying the implications of the the talent they have on the roster. If players like Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor can all keep up the pace and get some more help from the depth players, this team is surely one that can score their way deep into the playoffs.

There is a good reason why Hellebuyck is a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season as the best goalie in the league. He faced the most shots this season and was tested from start to finish, but still put up a 31-21-5 record with a 2.57 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and six shutouts. If the Jets continue to get strong goaltending from Hellebuyck, he can give them any chance in the world.

It will be up to the defense to really find a way to shut down the opposition and keep Hellebuyck strong and energized in this playoff race. If they can't shore up their game and the offense unexpectedly goes silent, game over.

Chances: Sneaky good.

10) Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild have very much been a team bound for a tear down with the roster, but they found a way, again, to be in contention enough and get into the playoffs with this format.

The offense got a surprising uptick from Kevin Fiala this season, who came out of his shell with a 54 point campaign (23+31) in 64 games. Grizzled veteran Eric Staal continues to do his thing, putting up 19 goals and 28 assists for 47 points in 66 games this year. However, the rest of the offense continues to be very lackluster in production and play on the ice, which would be a nice fix if the Wild happen to lose in the play-in round and win the NHL Draft Lottery...

Minnesota's defense continues to be strong with the reliable play of veteran Ryan Suter and the offensive injection of Jared Spurgeon. However, guys like Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and company will need to up the ante a bit if they are to help their team get into the next round.

Goaltending is a big issue for the Wild as they have turned to backup Alex Stalock after starter Devan Dubnyk really struggled to find his game this season. Without good goaltending against a Canucks team that can score well, they will not have much of a chance at all.

Chances: Need a prayer.

11) Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes have the talent and always seem to have some exceptional talent in the desert, but it wasn't enough again this season, even with the addition of former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall.

They have a relatively young group of offensive talent that will need to continue to mature as they play-in round commences. Players like Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, Conor Garland, Christian Dvorak and others put up some decent numbers all year, but the pressure will be on to take that next step. Veterans like Phil Kessel, Carl Soderberg, Derek Stepan and Hall will also feel pressure to produce more, as well as be an example for the youngsters looking to do their part going forward.

Meanwhile, the defensive group is looking alright going into the future as long as everyone stays healthy. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers will lead the way in terms of veteran leadership, while Jakob Chychrun, Jordan Oesterle and others will be the young catalysts for that blue line.

Another area the Coyotes need to stay healthy in is in goal with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. Both are capable of carrying the load and helping the Coyotes as much as they can with some strong play, but it would be helpful for neither of them to go down due to injury.

It's very possible the team could make a run past the play-in round and back into the playoffs, but from there it's uncertain how the dirt road twists and turns.

Chances: Meh.

12) Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks know what it takes to go on deep runs and be a Stanley Cup contender come playoff time, but this year was certainly not a year they expected to be in contention.

Sure, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith are still around from the dynasty teams to help lead the younger group into battle, but their skill and leadership alone will not be enough this time without some more help.

However, that help could come offensively from some of the high-end younger talent in the organization right now in Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach, Alex Nylander and Adam Boqvist from the blue line. All of these players are very talented, but how will they step up their game when it comes to playing a team like Edmonton in the play-in round?

Health will not benefit the Blackhawks in this round as two of their veteran leaders will be out and unavailable, and they are two players are big names: Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook.

As for Corey Crawford, It was uncertain if he would be able to play with him being "unfit to play" during training camp. However, he did manage to get into the exhibition game against the Blues and is confident he is ready to go. If he cannot play, Chicago would have to rely on Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia in net, which is less than ideal when facing McDavid and company from Edmonton.

Their chances seem quite slim, but you never know.

Chances: Need a prayer.

Here is how I see things playing out in the Return To Play format:

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:

Seeding round-robin results:

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. Boston Bruins
4. Washington Capitals

Qualifying Round results:

5 - Pittsburgh Penguins over 12 - Montreal Canadiens (3-0)

11 - New York Rangers over 6 - Carolina Hurricanes (3-2)

7 - New York Islanders over 10 - Florida Panthers (3-1)

9 - Columbus Blue Jackets over 8 - Toronto Maple Leafs (3-2)

Quarterfinal Round results:

1 - Tampa Bay Lightning over 11 - New York Rangers (4-1)

4 - Washington Capitals over 5 - Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2)

3 - Boston Bruins over 7 - New York Islanders (4-2)

2 - Philadelphia Flyers over 9 - Columbus Blue Jackets (4-3)

Semifinal Round results:

1 - Tampa Bay Lightning over 4 - Washington Capitals (4-2)

2 - Philadelphia Flyers over 3 - Boston Bruins (4-2)

Conference Final result:

1 - Tampa Bay Lightning over 2 - Philadelphia Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:

Seeding round-robin results:

1. Vegas Golden Knights
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Dallas Stars

Qualifying Round results:

5 - Edmonton Oilers over 12 - Chicago Blackhawks (3-0)

6 - Nashville Predators over 11 - Arizona Coyotes (3-2)

7 - Vancouver Canucks over 10 - Minnesota Wild (3-1)

9 - Winnipeg Jets over 8 - Calgary Flames (3-1)

Quarterfinal Round results:

9 - Winnipeg Jets over 1 - Vegas Golden Knights (4-3)

5 - Edmonton Oilers over 4 - Dallas Stars (4-3)

3 - St. Louis Blues over 6 - Nashville Predators (4-2)

2 - Colorado Avalanche over 7 - Vancouver Canucks (4-1)

Semifinal Round results:

2 - Colorado Avalanche over 9 - Winnipeg Jets (4-2)

3 - St. Louis Blues over 5 - Edmonton Oilers (4-3)

Conference Final result:

2 - Colorado Avalanche over 3 - St. Louis Blues (4-2)

Stanley Cup Final result:

Tampa Bay Lightning over Colorado Avalanche (4-3)

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