2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup predictions

3 Comments

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

We’ve looked at the East, the West, who will win some of the NHL trophies this season, and now, finally, it’s time to say who we think will win it all this season.

Will the Blues repeat? Only one team has done so in two decades, and they know how difficult it will be to go through the grind of the season and the playoff battle in order to raise the Cup again. There are plenty of contenders in both conferences, and here’s who we think will finish on top when all is said and done.

Who do you see winning the Stanley Cup this season?

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EASTERN CONFERENCE / WESTERN CONFERENCE]

STANLEY CUP CHAMPION

SEAN: Golden Knights in 6. Mark Stone wins Conn Smythe. The window remains open for Vegas and with their core players locked up, they won’t be going anywhere over the next few years. There’s plenty in the pipeline, but for now, this team remains a contender and the aggressiveness by George McPhee, new GM Kelly McCrimmon and owner Bill Foley have ensured that their inaugural was not a one-off.

JAMES: Lightning in 7. Brayden Point wins Conn Smythe. This team was a regular-season juggernaut, and while they had to do some salary cap juggling, they managed to come out the other side almost as strong. In fact, if someone like Mikhail Sergachev makes a leap, the Lightning could actually be even better — not in the standings, but when it matters the most.

JOEY: Lightning in 6. Victor Hedman wins Conn Smythe. You won’t see them put up the same crazy amount of points during the regular season this year, but they’ll win the conference and the division. They’ll also find a way to keep rolling heading into mid-April. For this to happen, they can’t afford to lose Victor Hedman, again, though. 

ADAM: Avalanche in 7. Nathan MacKinnon wins Conn Smythe. I am just going to go all in on the Avalanche this season. The only thing that might hold them back is if Philipp Grubauer isn’t up to the challenge of being a championship goalie. But I like him, I don’t think he is going to have to be a game-stealer for them, and this team looks to be as loaded on paper as anyone.

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?
• NHL Awards, free agent busts, overhyped teams
Breakout players, bold predictions for 2019-20

Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?

It is a near certainty that one of the NHL’s 16 Stanley Cup playoff teams from 2018-19 is going to miss the playoffs this season. It happens every year, and it would be completely unheard of if it did not happen again.

It is just a matter of which team (or teams) ends up missing.

Now, not every team is in danger as there are a handful at the top that would seem to be virtual locks: We will put the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, and Nashville Predators in that group. Is there a team in there that you could see missing the playoffs? Even a significant injury to one or two players doesn’t seem to be enough to keep one out.

That leaves us with nine teams whose fanbases might have reason to be a little worried.

These are those teams.

A lot of things would have to go wrong (least likely to miss)

Colorado Avalanche. I almost put them among the locks because I am definitely buying their hype and think big things are ahead for them in the very near future. Their ceiling this year? Possible Stanley Cup team. But they have just enough questions (strong division around them, goaltending, relying heavily on a young defense) to put just a touch of doubt in there. Not a lot of doubt, but just enough.

Carolina Hurricanes. Like the Avalanche, I also wanted to put them in the “playoff lock” category but there are two things that could potentially hold them back. The first is the goaltending falls flat, which is something that has happened to this team on more than one occasion over the past decade. The second is they are in an absolutely loaded division where pretty much everybody made some kind of major change this summer. Not all of these teams can make the playoffs, and while I don’t think the Hurricanes are going to be one of the teams on the outside, the goaltending is enough of a question that the possibility is at least lurking.

Vegas Golden Knights. The top of the Golden Knights’ roster is great, and should be even better this season with a full year of Mark Stone on their top-line. It also took a Game 7 meltdown for the ages to keep them from advancing to Round 2. Their flaws are that the roster gets a little thin toward the bottom and I wonder how long they keep can giving a 35-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury such a heavy workload before he starts to break down. If everything goes right they could win the West for the second time in three years, but if something happens to Fleury or he starts to show some cracks things could unravel a bit.

It could happen (missing is possible, but not likely)

Pittsburgh Penguins. They had to fight down the stretch to make the playoffs a year ago, failed to win a single game once they got there, and made some pretty significant changes this summer. It remains to be seen whether or not they made the right changes, or if they are any better. The good news for them is they still have a few superstars and a No. 1 goalie.

Calgary Flames. They were the No. 1 team in the Western Conference going into the 2019 playoffs and had the second best record in the entire league, so going from that to outside of the playoffs would be a pretty big swing. They probably will not be that good again and a regression should be expected. But missing the playoffs? How could that possibly happen. Well, how confident are you in Cam Talbot and David Rittich in goal? That is how it could — emphasis on could — happen.

[MORE: NHL Power Rankings: First look at 2019-20 season]

Most likely candidates

Dallas Stars. This sort of feels like a long shot because they have great talent at the top and added another top-line player this summer in Joe Pavelski. But they made the playoffs with only 93 points a year ago (most years that is not good enough) and still have some depth issues at forward. They are in a really tough division, the depth is lacking, and they relied heavily on Ben Bishop‘s .934 save percentage.

Winnipeg Jets. Two years ago this team was in the NHL’s final four and looking like an emerging power in the Western Conference. Last year they never looked quite right and took a big step backwards. This summer they watched as their defense was decimated one piece at a time. If Dustin Byfuglien stays away they will barely be able to put together an NHL caliber blue line. Connor Hellebuyck is a solid goalie, but he may not be good enough to cover for that group.

Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the team everyone expects to miss after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky, and admittedly, it does look grim. But they won 50 games the year before Panarin arrived, Duchene only played a handful of games in Columbus, and they still have some great young core players coming back. The key is the goalies. Replacing Bobrovsky won’t be easy, and that will be the hurdle that could prove to be too tall, especially in that division.

New York Islanders. Islanders fans are no doubt tired of hearing about how their team is likely to regress this season, and honestly, I don’t blame them. The 2018-19 season was an incredible story and unexpected success that reignited a hurting fanbase. But there are real flaws with this team, especially offensively. Like the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets they have to deal with a loaded division, and they were the only team that did not do anything significant except to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov. That is a concern.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rangers begin training camp with goal of making the playoffs

Getty Images
2 Comments

The New York Rangers have two clear goals this season: to keep improving and return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

The addition of forwards Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, and defenseman Jacob Trouba this summer helped accelerate the team’s rebuild, and now the Rangers believe they are ready to take the next step in the second year under coach David Quinn.

”We want to make the playoffs,” Quinn said Friday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, New York, ‘Obviously it’s something we want to accomplish. The moves we made over the summer are just a continuation of what we’ve been doing over the last 16, 17 months. Within the walls of our locker room and the walls of this building, we feel good about the direction we’re going in and we’re going to continue to get better daily.”

The Rangers went into rebuilding mode by dealing some veterans at the trade deadline in 2018 and continued it at last season’s deadline. There were a lot of ups and downs in the first full season of the makeover, and they finished 32-36-14. New York had just five wins in its last 21 games (5-10-6) to end up seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 20 points out of the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Now, the team that began training camp with on-ice testing on Friday has even higher expectations than the one that left for the summer five months earlier.

”I want improvement,” Rangers team president John Davidson told reporters one day earlier: ”Playoffs is a goal for sure, but there’s got to be improvement the right way that you can count on long-term to get gratification out of the season.”

Quinn believes the familiarity the returning players have with his system should help their second training camp together get off to a better start than a year ago. And they should be better prepared for their coach’s physical demands.

”They certainly have done everything we’ve asked them to do away from the rink,” Quinn said. ”They look in better shape, they’re a little bit older, a little bit more mature. We just want to continue to build on the progress they made last year.”

Signing Panarin in free agency was a big boost. The 27-year-old had 28 goals and 59 assists last season while helping Columbus get the last wild card in the Eastern Conference and then beat Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay to advance to the second round. He brings career totals of 116 goals and 204 assists in 322 games over four seasons with Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks.

Kakko was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, and Trouba was acquired in a trade with Winnipeg and then signed as a restricted free-agent.

Davidson, who rejoined the organization in May after stepping down as the president of the Columbus Blue Jackets, knows Panarin well.

”He’s competitive, really competitive,” Davidson said. ”The big spots in games, he likes to find a way. … He’s’ a guy that’s going to show up for work every day and you don’t have to worry about him.

”He’s very strong, strong on the puck, strong in loose-puck battles.”

Some other things to know as the Rangers head into their first practice sessions on Saturday:

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Henrik Lundqvist back for his 15th season after going 18-23-10, with career-worst of a 3.07 goals-against average and a .907 save-percentage. It also marked the first time he had fewer than 24 wins.

Alexandar Georgiev is coming off a solid season as the backup, going 14-13-4 with a 2.91 GAA. The 23-year-old could be challenged for the No. 2 spot by Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, who has come over from the KHL.

Davidson and Quinn both said they don’t have a target for games in mind for Lundqvist, but don’t want to overuse him.

”We want him to have a great season so that when we do make the playoffs he’s in a position where he’s fresh,” Quinn said.

LINE COMBINATIONS: Quinn said he plans on starting camp with Pavel Buchnevich joining the first line with Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Filip Chytil will get a look at centering the second line with Chris Kreider on the left wing and possibly Kakko or fellow rookie Vitali Kravtsov on the other side.

Lias Andersson and Brett Howden will get chances in the middle on subsequent lines. Ryan Strome is likely to start out on a wing, but could also see some time at center.

O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: The Rangers haven’t had a captain since trading Ryan McDonagh at the deadline in 2018, and there doesn’t appear to be a standout favorite to fill that role.

”I think we’d like to have a captain but that’s something that’s going to evolve,” Quinn said. ”We’re in a situation where it’s going to happen and the captain will pick himself in a lot of ways.”

Five playoff teams that could miss postseason in 2020

Getty
13 Comments

It happens every year. Teams that make the playoffs one season, don’t make it the following season. Five teams that made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs failed to qualify for the postseason in 2019. So, who might those five teams be in 2020?

The five teams that made the playoffs in 2018 that didn’t make them in 2019 are the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

Of course, the offseason still isn’t over so any of the teams on this list could make a significant trade or signing to change their course this season, but we’ll make an opinion based on the information we have right now.

Clearly, we’re expecting there to be way more turnover in the Eastern Conference than in the Western Conference. After all, non-playoff teams like the Rangers, Flyers, Panthers, Devils and Sabres have all improved their roster. The Canadiens only missed the playoffs by two points, and GM Marc Bergevin won’t be shy about making a splash before the start of training camp. In the West, things seem to be a little more set.

[Five non-playoff teams that could make it in 2020]

So let’s take a look at who those teams might be in 2020.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Jackets finished in the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference in 2018-19, but they’ve lost star forward Artemi Panarin, trade deadline acquisition Matt Duchene and franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Yes, the Jackets have a lot of young talent still on the roster, but too many teams around them got better in the East. Even though they added Gustav Nyquist in free agency, they probably don’t have enough up front to sneak in. Getting this group back into the playoffs would be an unbelievable accomplishment for head coach John Tortorella.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have been able to keep their group together for the most part. They lost Curtis McElhinney in free agency and they traded Calvin de Haan to the Chicago Blackhawks. Free agent Micheal Ferland hasn’t signed with anybody yet, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be returning to Carolina. The ‘Canes were one of the big surprises in the NHL last season. We just need to find out if they can do it again. Will a duo of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer be able to carry them back to the playoffs, let alone an Eastern Conference Final?

New York Islanders: Like Carolina, the Islanders have to show that their group is capable of repeating everything they were able to accomplish last season. Barry Trotz was able to get the most out of this group but there’s no denying they caught the league by surprise a little bit last year. Now that teams will have an offseason to adjust, can Trotz get them to buy in to his defense-first system, again? The good news is that they were able to bring back Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle. Now, Semyon Varlamov has to do what Robin Lehner did last year.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Pittsburgh Penguins: There’s some question marks surrounding the Penguins heading into the season. Last season, they managed to collect 100 points but they were swept by the Islanders in the opening round of the playoffs. They’ve made some changes to their roster by trading away Olli Maatta and Phil Kessel. Yes, they’ve added Dominik Kahun and Alex Galchenyuk, but the defense isn’t getting any younger.

St. Louis Blues: I don’t want to sleep on the Stanley Cup Champions, but the reality is that they were in last place in early January, got hot, and won the cup. They can’t be dismissed, but Stanley Cup hangovers are a real thing. Also, can Jordan Binnington pick up where he left off in the Stanley Cup Final? They haven’t lost any big pieces but they haven’t added much either.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Report: NHL, NHLPA agree not to change playoff format

14 Comments

The NHL’s current playoff format is reportedly sticking around, at least for one more season.

According to a report from Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to extend the format, as well as the current divisional alignment, for one more year. Even though it will continue to be a talking point, the earliest possible change to the format will not be until the 2020-21 season, if one even happens.

The NHL has used the current divisional format since the 2013-14 season.

It is set up so the top-three teams in each division are automatically in the playoffs, while the remaining two spots in each conference are Wild Card teams. The division winners play the Wild Card teams in Round 1, while the second and third place teams face each other.

It is a format designed to create and focus on rivalries, which it absolutely does and has given us some amazing early round matchups in recent years.

Critics of the format, however, don’t like that it can often times guarantee that a top-team in the league gets eliminated in the first-or second-round depending on the strength of the division the play in.

Last year, for example, Nashville and Winnipeg, the teams with the two best records in the league, ended up meeting in Round 2. It was a similar story the year before when Pittsburgh and Washington met in the second round.

This year, Boston and Toronto (the third and fifth best records at the moment) are slated to meet in Round 1, with the winner possibly having to play Tampa Bay (the best team in the league) in round two if it wins its first round series.

Lightning forward Steven Stamkos was one of the players that recently questioned the format.

“It is what it is,” said Stamkos, via TSN. “It has been that way for a while now. You’re going to have to beat the best teams to win anyways whether it’s the first round or the conference finals. I understand where they’re coming from from a marketing perspective, wanting to get some rivalries early on, but I think from a perspective of what you’re grinding 82 games for during a season is to finish as high as you can so you can have that advantage come playoffs.”

“I don’t think that’s an advantage to Toronto or Boston to be, what could be the top three teams in the whole league from one division, and then to have to play that team in the first round. I don’t think that’s right, and saying that you saw what [Pittsburgh] and [Washington] had to deal with for the last couple years. It is what it is. You can’t change it now, but I don’t think it’s the most fair in terms of why you play and the advantage you’re supposed to have come playoff time.”

It might not be ideal to have a top team go out early, but there are some fantastic possibilities for Round 1 matchups this season (Boston-Toronto is a given, as is San Jose-Vegas, and both should be amazing; Nashville-Winnipeg is also possibility) that are going to be incredible to watch.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.