Jul 31, 2020 - Sports

The NHL is back

Table: Axios Visuals
Table: Axios Visuals

The NHL's race to the Stanley Cup begins Saturday, with 24 teams split between two bubbles — one centered around the Toronto Maple Leafs' Scotiabank Arena, the other around the Edmonton Oilers' Rogers Place.

The state of play: Once they reach the conference finals, the two remaining East teams will travel to Edmonton, where their families will be able to join them.

How it works: To whittle the field down to 16, the first nine days will look a little different than normal.

  • Round robin: The top four seeds in each conference will play a three-game round robin to determine seeding.
  • Qualifying round: Nos. 5–12 in each conference will play a best-of-five series to narrow the field to 16 teams.
  • Playoffs: A four-round postseason, with every series a best-of-seven. Teams will be reseeded after each round, instead of using the traditional bracket.
East

Round robin: No. 1 Boston Bruins, No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning, No. 3 Washington Capitals, No. 4 Philadelphia Flyers.

  • Championship odds: The Bruins (12.2%) and Lightning (12.1%) have the best shot at winning it all, per FiveThirtyEight.

Qualifying round:

  • No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
  • No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
  • No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
  • No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets
West

Round robin: No. 1 St. Louis Blues, No. 2 Colorado Avalanche, No. 3 Vegas Golden Knights, No. 4 Dallas Stars.

  • Championship odds: The Avalanche (12.0%) and Blues (8.7%) have the best shot at winning it all, per FiveThirtyEight.

Qualifying round:

  • No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks
  • No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes
  • No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
  • No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets
Players to watch
  • Leon Draisatl (Oilers): The presumptive favorite for the Hart Trophy (MVP) leads the league in points (13 ahead of teammate Connor McDavid), and he gets to play on his home ice for as long as the Oilers stay alive.
  • Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues): Injuries limited the two-time All-Star to just 10 games, yet the Blues still had the West's best record. Now he's healthy and ready for a deep run.
  • Patrick Marleau (Penguins): The 40-year-old doesn't stuff the stat sheet anymore, but he's still more than just the old guy out for one last hurrah. He's never won the Cup, and this could be his last best shot.
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