Friday is an important day for the National Hockey League. Players are currently voting for a new 24-team playoff format that will replace the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs to serve as the league's return to play plan. That's all due to the coronavirus pandemic causing the NHL to suspend their season indefinitely back in March.
With eight additional teams being added to the bracket this year, that means certain squads will receive an advantage. From teams ranked at the top of the conference standings, to those who had no shot of even making the playoffs, can all go on a run.
Here are five teams that will definitely benefit from the NHL's new format.
5. Montreal Canadiens
Before the pandemic hit North America, the Canadiens had no chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rather, they were focused on the NHL Draft Lottery. But now, Montreal's slated to face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they're already living rent free in their opponents heads. Reports indicate that the Penguins were opposed to the original best-of-three play-in round series due to playing against Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who owns a staggering .914 save percentage and 2.53 goals allowed average in 60 career playoff games. The Canadiens could shock the world and make a deep run in the playoffs, but it all relies on Price's play. They're already in the heads of their first round opponents, so they have an edge.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
Just like the Canadiens, the Western Conference teams expressed their concern about playing the Chicago Blackhawks, due to Patrick Kane. If you've watched hockey this past decade, you know just how dangerous the Blackhawks winger is once it's playoff time. In nine playoff runs, Kane tallied 50 goals and 73 assists, resulting in Chicago adding three Stanley Cups to their trophy case. While the Blackhawks lack a quality goaltender, they could simply outscore the opposition. Plus, Chicago would face the No. 4 seed in the first round if they advance against the Edmonton Oilers. Fans might not want to admit it, but the Blackhawks have the potential to make a run.
3. New York Rangers
Prior to the spread of COVID-19, the Rangers figuratively caught on fire, thanks in part to the superb scoring abilities of Mika Zibanejad and free agency acquisition Artemi Panarin. But during that surge, the team lost winger Chris Kreider and starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin to injury, which would've knocked them out for the remainder of the regular season. Now with the season set to resume this summer, the Rangers will be a full-go. All of their primary scorers, plus their young stud in net, and an impressive defensive corps (Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, Tony Deangelo) will create problems for their opponents, starting with the Carolina Hurricanes in the play-in round. Don't sleep on the Rangers. Their future is bright.
2. Colorado Avalanche
Western Conference teams might fear Patrick Kane, but they should definitely be losing sleep at night over the Colorado Avalanche. No team is faster in the league than the Avs, thanks in part to their youthful corps of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar. Those three players, plus the likes of Gabriel Landeskog and Andre Burakovsky, create a dominant scoring offense. That's evidenced by their +46 goal differential, which is best in the entire West. There's definitely going to be an adjustment period for most teams, whom need to get back into game shape. That could do them in, especially if they have to face the Avalanche. Once Colorado catches on, forget about it. Speed kills.
1. Boston Bruins
Of course, you have to put the best team in hockey at the top of the list. The 100-point Bruins shockingly got even better after their run to the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago. They have the NHL's goal-leader in David Pastrnak (48), an annoying pest in Brad Marchand to get under the opposition's skin, and the always-tough Patrice Bergeron. Oh, and they have goaltender Tukkaa Rask in net, who's coming off the best season of his career (2.12 goals allowed average, .929 save percentage). We've seen over the years just how much playing the Bruins takes out of teams, so we can easily see them clinching the top seed in the Eastern bracket and making a run to the Finals. Plus, they'd likely face their proverbial punching bag in the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. Beware of the Bruins.