The NHL season is comin’ in hot.
We’re not less than a week away from puck drop on opening night of the 2020-21 NHL season, and with that has come the release of many new futures that we may or may not see again once the season kicks off.
We’ve already went through team point total over/unders for all 31 teams, and now it’s time to see which teams will get into the postseason.
Remember, four teams from each of the four realigned divisions make the playoffs. Top four teams, simple as that. With a strict interdivision regular-season schedule — followed by interdivision first-round postseason matchups — you can bet the intensity gets picked up several notches as the season moves along with every single point crucial to a club’s postseason chances.
With that in mind, let’s find out who the postseason teams will be from each division this season — with a simple yes/no response — and see if we can uncover some value along the way. Keep in mind many of these predictions contain odds that require laying plenty of juice and don’t exactly hold a ton of value, so be mindful while picking and choosing your spots!
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
In the seven-team North Division, your theoretical odds of making the playoffs are slightly increased compared to the other three divisions containing eight clubs.
That said, this is an interesting one as the Flames were originally +650 to win the north, but those odds have since shifted to +525 as bettors are realizing this team has significantly improved, at least on paper.
Pilfering No. 1 goaltender Jacob Markstrom and top-four blueliner Chris Tanev from the rival Canucks is a good start, and the simple additions of wingers such as Josh Leivo — another former Canuck — and Dominik Simon has afforded them to expand their top six and create two high-end scoring lines while former second-line center Mikael Backlund can move to the third line, creating depth via the trickle-down effect.
Talk about a kick save and a beauty! 👏
— NHL (@NHL) August 13, 2020
I am fully on board with this Calgary Flames team given the fruitful offseason. There’s some juice to be laid on this one, but the Flames certainly get into the postseason.
Prediction: Yes (-200)
It’s awfully difficult to bet against the 97/29 combination in Edmonton as the best one-two punch in the NHL, but there’s question marks all over this Edmonton Oilers team.
They added depth scoring with Kyle Turris and Dominik Kahun, but even in a season when the Oilers had the top two point-producers in the NHL, the offense inched towards the middle of the pack.
Also, can the Oilers’ special teams repeat their production from last season? They boasted the top-ranked power play and second-ranked penalty kill last season, but were a poor team on both sides of the puck at 5v5.
They’re No. 1 workhorse defenseman Oscar Klefbom is out for the season and the decision to retain Mike Smith on the heels of a 2.95 GAA/.902 Sv% from last season is questionable at best.
This back end is a major concern for me and special teams regression is overwhelmingly likely. As a result, the Oilers will be on the outside looking in this time around.
Prediction: No (+120)
The Habs enjoyed a productive offseason under general manager Marc Bergevin, adding the likes of Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson, Alexander Romanov and Jake Allen to a roster that is already far deeper than the one that enjoyed a surprising and successful postseason run last season.
The addition of Allen gives Carey Price a breather, but he’s also coming off a 2.15 GAA and .927 Sv% behind Jordan Binnington in St. Louis last season while Toffoli and Anderson add to an offense that is strong on the flanks, but a little thin down the middle as they’ll rely on youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to deliver second and third-line production.
Nonetheless, I view the Habs as one of the surest bets to make the postseason in this seven-team division.
Prediction: Yes (-210)
The Senators added experienced NHL production to their forward group this offseason with the likes of Evgenii Dadonov and Derek Stepan to their top six while Alex Galchenyuk and third overall pick Tim Stuetzle could give them a boost in the bottom-six.
The problem resides on the back end. Aside from Thomas Chabot, the blueline is about as unimpressive as it gets with the likes of Erik Gudbranson, Nikita Zaitsev, Artem Zub, Erik Brannstrom, Christian Wolanin and Josh Brown to fight for jobs. There’s upside in there, but not in the immediate term.
They did well to add former Penguins goaltender Matt Murray in the offseason for only a third-round pick in a salary dump for the Pens, but let’s not get carried away. While a change of scenery and a larger role could get the two-time Cup champion back into form, Murray has struggled in two of the last three seasons and is coming off a career-worst 2.87 GAA and .899 Sv% from a season ago.
The future looks brighter than ever, but we’re not mistaking them for contenders yet.
Prediction: No (-500)
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have moved to +125 as the favorite to win the North Division, as it would be shocking to see them miss out on the postseason.
They’re free from the stranglehold that was the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division — for now — and addressed their most glaring needs in the offseason with right-side blueliners T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian along with more physicality up front in the rugged Wayne Simmonds.
Joe Thornton, Jimmy Vesey, Mikko Lehtonen, Alexander Barabonov and Nicholas Robertson aren’t players that are game-breakers at this point, but they help form the deepest Maple Leafs team we’ve seen in recent memory while the much-maligned defensive corps is seemingly superior to what we have seen in years past.
Mitch Marner prefers to pass the puck over firing a shot on net. When he does decide to shoot, it’s often an impressive goal. None more so than this tally against the Sharks back in March. #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/YgkxcmCbFP
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) June 7, 2020
Add in a likely bounce back from netminder Frederik Andersen and the Maple Leafs should be shoe-in for the postseason.
Prediction: Yes (-400)
There is already an ominous feeling with this club after No. 1 goaltender and team MVP Jacob Markstrom along with reliable top-four defenseman Chris Tanev are now suiting up for the rival Flames. They also allowed Tyler Toffoli to talk in free agency after a productive post-deadline stint and he wound up signing a bargain four-year deal with the new rival Canadiens.
The offense is in good shape with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat up front, but the blueline concerns me and I’m not as bullish on the Thatcher Demko/Braden Holtby goaltending tandem as it appears many others are.
After a stunning playoff run to Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal last season, I’m betting on serious regression from the Canucks this time around.
Prediction: No (+120)
To me, I had no hesitation in including the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Flames into the postseason from this division. I also felt good about keeping the Senators and Canucks out, especially with the value we’re getting on the latter. At the end of the day, it came down to the Oilers or Jets.
I’m certainly not a fan of the Jets’ blueline either as it was a group that was dominated last season, but also a group that added a quality defender in Dylan Demelo and one that should be healthier this season.
They don’t have a McDavid or Draisaitl, but they do have one of the best top-six forward groups in the league consisting of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny.
On top of the elite top-six, they have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck was under siege last season, but should at least get superior play in front of him this time around. He’ll still have to be well above average, but having Hellebuyck in goal most definitely beats the Koskinen/Smith duo in Edmonton.
I think the Jets bounce back a little more than most would think without a ton of high-end competition in the North Division, and I have them in my postseason bracket.
Prediction: Yes (-120)
The Bruins lost some bite on the blueline with Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug moving on in free agency, and players such as John Moore and Jeremy Lauzon will be thrust into duty as a result.
David Pastrnak is out for the first month of the season and while Brad Marchand is likely to be ready to begin the season, both players had very little offseason after undergoing offseason surgeries that came with four-to-five month recovery timelines. It will be interesting to see how that high-octane duo holds up in a busy and condensed schedule.
With Krug elsewhere and Pastrnak sidelined to start, you have to wonder if the Bruins can maintain their second-ranked power play from a season ago.
The Tuukka Rask/Jaroslav Halak duo returns in goal, but the defense in front of them has regressed. It’s going to be a close split of starts in favor of Rask, but it’s not the only quality goaltending duo in this loaded East Division.
BetOnline has five of the eight teams in this division with better odds to make the playoffs than to miss. That means one team is going to be on the outside looking in.
Call me crazy, but I’ll take a stab at some serious value and take the Bruins to stunningly play their way out of a playoff spot this season.
Prediction: No (+195)
The poor Buffalo Sabres looked as if they could sneak into a postseason spot in the Atlantic, but being moved to the deepest division in the league was a major blow.
Taylor Hall certainly boosts their offense, and while they’re not major difference-makers at this point, Eric Staal and Cody Eakin add more center depth behind Jack Eichel than the elite pivot has seen in his NHL career.
That said, the defensive corps isn’t a standout group outside of Rasmus Dahlin and the Linus Ullmark/Carter Hutton goaltending duo is on the weak side relative to other teams in the east.
Dahlin’s shootout goal 👀 pic.twitter.com/qcY5XYn3B3
— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) March 10, 2020
The Sabres caught a tough break in realignment and will miss the postseason as a result.
Prediction: No (-240)
New Jersey Devils
The rebuilding Devils are in for a long season despite the truncated 56-game schedule.
The forward group remains one of the worst in the league despite the addition of top-six winger Andreas Johnsson and continued development of former No. 1 overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
The blueline doesn’t impress, but will fortunately be bailed out by a fine-looking goaltending duo in youngster Mackenzie Blackwood and three-time Cup champ Corey Crawford.
Both played behind extremely poor defensive clubs last season. Blackwood posted a strong 2.77 GAA and .915 Sv% behind a brutal Devils back end and Crawford posted an identical 2.77 GAA and a stout .917 Sv% behind a Blackhawks defense that ranked dead last in allowing 35.9 shots per game.
Needless to say, the Devils could get brutalized in this loaded division and there’s simply no way they get close to a postseason spot.
Prediction: No (-325)
New York Islanders
This is a difficult situation to gauge considering their best player in Mathew Barzal remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume Lou Lamoriello gets his star pivot inked to a deal prior to opening night.
It’s just been a bad decision to bet against these Islanders over the last two seasons. They struggled down the regular-season stretch last season, but roared back into the Eastern Conference Final come playoff time. They’ve collectively been one of the very best defensive teams over the last two seasons, and while the offense isn’t likely to improve much, if at all, this back end will take the Islanders as far as they’ll go.
It’s a back end that will welcome Russian netminder Ilya Sorokin to the mix. Sorokin has posted stunning numbers in the KHL over the last five seasons and certainly look ready for NHL duty alongside veteran Semyon Varlamov.
When everything goes wrong, there is one man to save the day – Ilya Sorokin. pic.twitter.com/Q8iHWFWtqx
— KHL (@khl_eng) November 29, 2016
Barry Trotz is the Jack Adams favorite for a reason, and he’ll have his team playing structured defensive hockey in no time, something that will carry this team into the postseason.
Prediction: Yes (-140)
New York Rangers
Few teams appear to be on the rise as quickly as these Rangers. They have added to their talent in the draft over the last two seasons with No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere in 2020 and No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko in 2019.
Artemi Panarin is an MVP-caliber player, Mika Zibanejad produced like one last season, and Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil and Brendan Lemieux are secondary scoring options.
The blueline is a question mark after allowing the second-most shots per game last season at 35.1 while posting some ugly advanced metrics in the process, but perhaps another year of development for what is a young group could yield improved results next season.
The excitement doesn’t stop after the skaters as Igor Shesterkin carries the No. 1 goaltending job into this season after impressing to the tune of a .932 Sv% in 12 games last season while fellow youngster Alexandar Georgiev is the 1B option.
— Rangers on MSG (@RangersMSGN) February 12, 2020
It’s an exciting group, but one that is caught in a division with elite-level clubs. Only four teams can get into the dance, and I think the Rangers narrowly miss out.
Prediction: No (-150)
The Flyers’ forward group received good news on two fronts so far in camp. Oskar Lindblom, more than a year after a cancer diagnosis, is in camp and should be ready to start the season. Keep in mind Lindblom was leading the Flyers with 11 goals in 31 games at the time of his diagnosis before being forced out for the remainder of the regular season, but miraculously made it back for two postseason contests.
It appears the Flyers will also get 2016 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick back after he missed all of last season with a migraine disorder.
Patrick and Lindblom help form one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL as the Flyers have four lines capable of offense to go along with a blueline that, while young, has talent up and down the board.
Carter Hart is, of course, one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL and he’ll once again be supported by veteran Brian Elliott.
The Flyers challenged the Washington Capitals for top spot in the Metropolitan Division last season, and I fully believe they’re a contender for top spot in the east.
Prediction: Yes (-165)
Changes were made in Pittsburgh after a back-to-back major postseason disappointments.
On the outs was Patric Hornqvist, Jack Johnson, Nick Bjugstad and Matt Murray while GM Jim Rutherford brought in Kasperi Kapanen, Michael Matheson and Mark Jankowski.
More than anything, the Penguins just need to stay healthy. The talent is there in spades both up front and on the blueline while the trade of Murray opens up the door for Tristan Jarry as the clear-cut No. 1 option in goal.
Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Brian Dumoulin were three key components that missed significant time last season while Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Kris Letang are players that missed at least 10 games.
Still, the Penguins were just four points back of the Caps for tops in the Metro, and with some better health luck I expect the Pens to compete for top spot in this division as well.
Prediction: Yes (-155)
The Caps are the fifth of eight teams favored to qualify for the postseason as they look for their sixth consecutive division crown after winning the Metro in each of the last five seasons.
The elite top-six remains the same, but the blueline and goaltending has significantly changed.
Michal Kempny is out for the season due to a torn Achilles’ tendon, and the team went out and added Chara and Justin Schultz after re-signing trade deadline acquisition Brendan Dillon in the offseason.
Braden Holtby walked in free agency with the team set to roll with 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov as the top option in goal. The mix behind him is unclear after Henrik Lundqvist’s heart condition announcement, however. Veteran Craig Anderson was signed to a professional tryout, but the team could also roll with prospect Vitek Vanecek after the 24-year-old worked to a 2.26 GAA and .917 SV% in 31 AHL contests last season.
Goaltending is certainly the x-factor here, but I certainly have the Caps on the inside of my East Division postseason picture.
Prediction: Yes (-150)
A team that benefited from realignment, the Hurricanes escape the likes of the Capitals, Flyers, Penguins and Islanders in the Metro and shift over to a Central Division that lacks high-end competition.
The pesky Hurricanes are as defensively sound as almost anyone else in the league. James Reimer and Petr Mrazek just need to be solid, not spectacular, to keep the Hurricanes as one of the better defensive clubs in the league.
Thanks to a career-best season from Sebastian Aho and sophomore Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes finished just outside the top 10 in overall offense while they remain an advanced stat darling.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 5, 2020
The ‘Canes are a quality team up and down the roster and they play under a coach in Rod Brind’Amour that demands effort and accountability. The Hurricanes are set up for success in the central.
Prediction: Yes (-250)
The Blackhawks have taken a few body blows before the season even gets underway.
Their top two centers are already out of the lineup as Jonathan Toews’ status is unclear as he deals with an unknown illness while sophomore Kirby Dach — scheduled to center Patrick Kane — broke his wrist in a World Junior exhibition game and will miss the season after undergoing surgery.
Add in Alex Nylander’s knee surgery that will keep him out for the season and the Blackhawks are already without three components to their offense, a group that was their main strength heading into the season.
The loss of those offensive contributors hurts considering the state of the back end. They acquired Nikita Zadorov in a trade for Brandon Saad with the Colorado Avalanche, but it’s an unimpressive group of defenders while the Malcolm Subban/Collin Delia could get exposed in a hurry.
Look away, Blackhawks fans. This season could get ugly, and quick.
Prediction: No (-450)
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets surpassed any and all expectations a season ago and even upset the Maple Leafs in the postseason’s qualifying round. They did while fighting through a plethora of injuries and and within probably the toughest division in the league.
They added Max Domi and Mikko Koivu to solidify the center ice position while Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno and youngsters Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom will combine to provide the secondary scoring.
This remains a defense-first team, however, after they tied for third in defense last season. We’ll see if they’ll get the same level of goaltending from Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins this season, but it’s a quality young duo that should fair well behind a structured, well-coached defensive club.
Much like the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets benefit in a big way from the realigned divisions and should get into the dance as a result.
Prediction: Yes (-130)
The Stars marched their way to the Stanley Cup Final last season and thanks to the realignment, they were able to shed the Avalanche and St. Louis Blues from their division this season.
Therefore, the Stars would seemingly be in a spot to succeed this season, but I’m not so sure.
They’re going be without their top point producer in Tyler Seguin for half the season, and same goes for goaltender Ben Bishop. Both players underwent November surgeries with five-month recovery timelines.
The Stars and their 26th-ranked offense can ill afford to lose Seguin and as good as they were defensively (2nd), the loss of Bishop puts enormous pressure on Anton Khudobin considering 22-year-old rookie Jake Oettinger and his zero NHL starts is the 1B option that will already be thrust into significant action this season. If something were to happen to Khudobin, the Stars are in big trouble.
Even with the benefit of realignment, I am going to grab some value here with the Stars surprisingly missing the postseason.
Prediction: No (+135)
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings went out and added some NHL depth to their roster this offseason. They aren’t franchise-altering additions, but the likes of Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Marc Staal, Troy Stecher, Jon Merrill and goaltender Thomas Greiss certainly make this version of the Red Wings more difficult to play against and should certainly enhance their ability to compete on a nightly basis.
The goaltending tandem of Greiss and Jonathan Bernier should work out just fine while we need to keep in mind that Jimmy Howard’s ghastly 4.20 GAA and .882 Sv% in 27 games was a major reason why Detroit was by far the worst overall defense in the NHL despite advanced metrics that suggest they weren’t nearly as bad as it seemed on the surface.
They some pieces in place for the future in Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Zadina and defenseman Filip Hronek, but the Wings still have a ways to go in their rebuild.
Prediction: No (-800)
The Panthers have an interesting situation brewing heading into the season. After excelling offensively and struggling defensively last season, I could see a complete 180 this time around.
They lost their top two goal-scorers from last season in Dadonov and Mike Hoffman which will surely hurt their offense and power play. On the other hand, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky cannot be worse after yielding a 3.23 GAA and .900 Sv% with just one shutout in 50 appearances last season.
Anthony Duclair, Hornqvist and Alexander Wennberg do not replace what they lost up front this offseason, and keep in mind Vincent Trocheck was also traded away last season.
The defense corps is suspect and I think Bobrovsky should be under siege again this season. He’ll be better, but not good enough to backstop this team into the playoffs.
Prediction: No (-150)
I was bearing on the Predators for much of the winter given their lackluster offseason, but they were able to re-sign Mikael Granlund and added third-line center Erik Haula to the mix late.
As a result, the top-six looks far better at this point with Granlund back in the mix while he and Matt Duchene — along with first-line winger Viktor Arvidsson — are bounce back candidates after tough seasons last year.
While the forward group looks better today than it did about three weeks ago, this team’s back end will take them as far as they go.
Lost in their disappointing last season is the elite top four on the Preds’ blueline in Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and youngster Donte Fabbro. Newcomers Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning at a physical presence in the bottom pair.
What a shot from Roman Josi!!!!! Keep ’em coming!!!
— FOX Sports Tennessee (@PredsOnFSTN) December 17, 2019
Where the Preds should improve the most is in goal. They tied for 19th with a .901 Sv% last season, but Pekka Rinne was brutal in working to a 3.17 GAA and .895 Sv% in 36 games. Twenty-five-year-old Juuse Saros started slow, but excelled down the stretch and finished with a 2.70 GAA and .914 Sv%.
With a 2.56 GAA and .918 Sv% across 119 NHL appearances to this point, Saros is going to take over the No. 1 role and I believe he’ll excel as one of the more underrated netminders in the league. He’ll be the x-factor in working with the stout defenders towards a postseason berth this season.
Prediction: Yes (-115)
Tampa Bay Lightning
No, they won’t have Nikita Kucherov for the season, but there’s no reason why the Lightning shouldn’t run all over this division.
They’ll get Steven Stamkos back, after all, and their depth up front and on the blueline is still unmatched throughout the league. The loss of Kucherov isn’t insignificant, but it’s not back-breaking for the deepest roster in the sport.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons and the Lightning offense is going to remain near or at the top of the league.
There is zero question that this is a playoff team.
Prediction: Yes (-500)
The most top-heavy, bottom-light division in the NHL, the west is certainly an intriguing division.
On one hand, the Ducks are certainly behind the likes of the Avalanche, Blues and Vegas Golden Knights, but can they get past the Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks and L.A. Kings?
Their defense went from third to 25th over a two-season span, but there’s certainly upside for the group to improve this season with the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler and newly-signed Kevin Shattenkirk forming the top four. There are certainly worse groups out there.
While I’m not bullish on the offense, perhaps young players such as Sam Steele, Troy Terry and Max Jones can take a step forward in their development while World Junior MVP Trevor Zegras could certainly join the big club.
Where the Ducks could stand to improve most is in goal. John Gibson’s 3.00 GAA and .904 Sv% fell well under his 2.53 GAA and .918 Sv% career marks.
— NHL (@NHL) May 13, 2017
I see a bounce back for Gibson, but I don’t see enough improvement anywhere else for the Ducks to claim a spot in the top-heavy west.
Prediction: No (-210)
Don’t expect this Coyotes club to score much this season. They “improved” to 23rd on offense last season, but that was with a half-season from Taylor Hall and No. 1 center Derek Stepan was dealt to the Senators this offseason while 17-goal man Carl Soderberg signed with the Blackhawks in free agency.
A bounce back from Clayton Keller and Phil Kessel is possible, but not enough to take this offense any further than it went a season ago.
It’s a team that will do its winning on defense. The ‘Yotes tied for third in overall defense, but the problem is their advanced metrics put them in the middle of the league as they largely benefited from a third-ranked .919 Sv% from the trio of Darcy Kuemper, Antti Raanta and Adin Hill.
If they don’t get the same elite work out of their goaltending, it will be interesting to see how the overall defense shakes out. It will need to be elite to support an anemic offense, but I’m not sure their injury-prone netminders can repeat such work as Arizona narrowly misses out on a postseason berth.
Prediction: No (-165)
The Avalanche are the Stanley Cup favorite at +650 at BetOnline, and for good reason.
Nathan MacKinnon is a perennial MVP candidate, there is secondary scoring galore and the defense combines their individual offensive and defensive abilities to form one of the best groups in the NHL.
The 28th goal of the season for Nathan MacKinnon.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) January 18, 2020
The goaltending duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz largely produced a .913 Sv% that finished a four-way tie for fourth in the league last season.
They’ve yet to be able to get the job done with this core in the postseason, but they’ll certainly get another kick at the can this season.
Prediction: Yes (-500)
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have an excellent pool of high-end prospects and some young, NHL talent, but it’s going to be awfully difficult to translate any of that to immediate-term success.
They have several veteran core pieces remaining on the roster in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick, but it’s difficult to argue against all of those players being past their prime, save for perhaps Doughty who is still just 31 years old.
Their offense can’t be much worse than their 29th-ranking from last season, and the truth is that L.A. wasn’t too shabby on defense where they finished 14th last season. It’s a defense that added reliable veteran Olli Maatta and will graduate prospect Mikey Anderson on a full-time basis, so perhaps they can remain an above-average group.
Additionally, Cal Petersen and his 2.62 GAA and .923 Sv% across a small 19-appearance NHL sample will get an increased look alongside Quick. The problem for the Kings is the west is chock-full of stout defensive clubs, many of whom are superior on offense.
The future is bright, but not this soon.
Prediction: No (-400)
The Wild have some stiff competition at the top of this division, but if you have read anything I’ve written in regards to this team this season, you’d know I’m bullish on their chances.
While they tied for 23nd in overall defense last season, keep in mind they also ranked first in scoring chances against/60, first in high-danger chances against/60 and first in expected goals against/60 at 5v5.
That’s the type of production the elite top four of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin put forth. The 29th-ranked .897 Sv% they received from their goaltending was the problem.
However, Devan Dubnyk — the worst of the 45 goaltenders that appeared in at least 30 games last season — was traded to the San Jose Sharks and Cam Talbot was brought in on the heels of a .919 regular-season save percentage and .924 postseason mark with the Calgary Flames.
They ranked 12th on offense and 11th on the power play last season, and while they lost centers Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu in the offseason and their center depth is a big question mark, I believe this defense will return as one of the game’s elite and will allow for offensive regression.
Add it up and I have the Wild inside my playoff picture in the west.
Prediction: Yes (-125)
San Jose Sharks
Clearly, the Sharks are looking for a rebound from Dubnyk. They acquired one of two netminders that was actually worse than starter Martin Jones last season, but it’s always possible both netminders return to form.
In fact, it’s about the only way the Sharks can return to contention.
There’s pieces up front in Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Evander Kane and Kevin Labanc, but the club’s bottom six is razor thin. They’ll get help from Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns to produce offense from the back end, and they should be healthier, but it’s not an impressive-looking group.
Karlsson and Burns are defensive liabilities, and there’s a good chance youngsters Mario Ferraro and Jacob Middleton are exposed despite some weak offensive clubs in this division.
Their offense and defense look awfully weak, and barring a heroic bounce back effort from both goaltenders, the Sharks will not be postseason club this season.
Prediction: No (-240)
St. Louis Blues
There was some reason to believe the Blues could regress after first-round exit and subsequent departure of captain and No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. That said, I’m not buying it.
The Blues’ defense could regress some, but they did bring in the puck-moving Torey Krug and Jordan Binnington should bounce back from a subpar .912 Sv% in his sophomore season. More than anything else, it’s the team’s defensive structure that should show through while we’ll keep in mind center Ryan O’Reilly is one of the best defensive forwards in the league.
— Here’s Your Replay ⬇️ (@TheReplayGuy) August 6, 2020
The Blues added Mike Hoffman to their group late, and along with Krug, should help keep the Blues’ power play near the top of the league after a third-place finish last season. They’ll also get sniper Vladimir Tarasenko back mid-season, giving the Blues one of the deeper offenses in the league.
I doubt there is much, if any, regression in the defensive numbers while I actually see their offense improving, perhaps significantly, from a share of 14th last season.
Add it up and the Blues are an easy postseason bet this season.
Prediction: Yes (-260)
Vegas Golden Knights
The Knights complete the ‘Big 3’ in the west with the Avalanche and Blues while they too should easily get into the playoffs this season.
They probably have the best group of scoring wingers in the league with Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch while the defense could rival the best in the business with Pietrangelo now on their side.
Center depth is a concern after William Karlsson as a group featuring Cody Glass, Chandler Stephenson and Tomas Nosek doesn’t inspire much confidence, but the goaltending situation does.
Robin Lehner was brought back on a five-year contract after impressing in the Vegas crease following a deadline deal with the Blackhawks. Lehner has been among the best goalies in the league over the last three seasons, and Marc-Andre Fleury is far better suited for a 1B role at this point as opposed to the monster workloads he was receiving before Lehner’s arrival in sin city.
This is one of the best rosters in the game, and they will cake walk their way to a postseason berth.
Prediction: Yes (-450)
In sum, here’s how I see the NHL’s playoff picture playing out this season, in order of my final speculative standings in each division.
What do you think? Hit me up on Twitter @BKemp17 and let me know!