As we saw with the abbreviated 60-game baseball season, strange things can happen when a full slate of games isn’t played.
Hockey has been through some shortened seasons before, namely of the 48-game variety due to labor problems in 1994-95 and 2012-13.
So conformity might take a bit of a detour in this year’s 56-game NHL season.
The divisions have been realigned due to the pandemic and it looks like a race to the wire in all of them.
There will be intra-divisional play for the first two rounds of playoffs, then on to inter-divisional competition for the semifinals, followed by the Stanley Cup Final, which is supposed to end no later than early July.
Here’s how we see things shaping up, with the top four teams in each division qualifying for the playoffs:
NORTH DIVISION (all Canada teams)
- Toronto Maple Leafs; 2. Vancouver Canucks; 3. Calgary Flames; 4. Edmonton Oilers.
The Maple Leafs have been stocking first-round draft picks for years and this could be their breakout year. The Canucks made a strong push toward the end of last season and could carry over that momentum. Calgary and Edmonton both appear to be headed in the right direction.
- Boston Bruins; 2. FLYERS; 3. New York Islanders; 4. Washington Capitals.
The Bruins posted 100 points in just 70 games, yet there seem to be some doubters, possibly because of a meltdown in the playoffs. But they’re still a dangerous contender. The Flyers look to make strides and if goaltender Carter Hart stays healthy and continues to improve, this is a team to watch. The Islanders have a proven coach in Barry Trotz and a high work ethic. The Capitals still have a lot of pieces from their 2018 Cup team, including No. 8.
- Tampa Bay Lightning; 2. Carolina Hurricanes; 3. Dallas Stars; 4. Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Penguins won back-to-back championships as recently as 2016 and 2017, so who’s to say the Lightning can’t pull off the same trick? Plus, they get Steve Stamkos back from injury. With the Hurricanes, it starts with coaching: “In Rod (Brind’Amour) We Trust.’’ Stanley Cup finalist Dallas could get off to slow start due to COVID-19 concerns. Columbus did a heck of a job last year, starting with coach John Tortorella, who should have won the Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year.
- Colorado Avalanche; 2. Vegas Golden Knights; 3. St. Louis Blues; 4. Arizona Coyotes.
Lots of people picking the Avalanche to win the Cup, and there’s a lot to like, starting with MVP favorite Nathan MacKinnon. Don’t bet against Vegas – they are loaded with excellent depth players. Our old pal Craig Berube won the Cup two years ago with the Blues and still has them in serious contention. Rick Tocchet’s Coyotes ran out of gas last season but this is a team still on the rise.
STANLEY CUP semifinals: Lightning over FLYERS; Avalanche over Maple Leafs.
WINNER: Colorado Avalanche.