NHL Season Restart Preview: Winners, Losers Of League’s Return To Play Format

While fully acknowledging the significance of the global issues that caused the NHL’s hiatus, a four-month pause isn’t exactly ideal for any sports team.

But for some, the layoff will be more beneficial than others.

The NHL is set to resume games August 1, with the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign to be played in Edmonton for the Western Conference and Toronto for the East. It will begin with a best-of-five-series for the fifth- through 12th-best teams in both conferences, while the top four play in a round robin tournament that will determine seeding for those teams. From there, a full Stanley Cup Playoff will ensue.

So, here are the winners and losers of that format.

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Winners

New York Rangers
The Rangers elected not to sell at the deadline, instead re-signing Chris Kreider while offloading Brady Skjei’s contract, and at the time of the pause they really were starting to heat up. The layoff might’ve benefited few teams more than the Rangers, as they’ll now have all of their goaltenders, namely Igor Shesterkin, healthy and ready to go.

Furthermore, we can see Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad giving the Carolina Hurricanes defense headaches in the Qualifying Round.

Montreal Canadiens
Some players reportedly admitted the idea of running into Carey Price gave them pause in voting yay for the RTP plan. That goes to show not only the amount of respect he commands around the league, but also how much of a difference-maker he can be if he’s hot.

As the 12th seed, expectations are pretty low for Montreal, and both of its potential results aren’t too bad. The Habs either can stun the Pittsburgh Penguins and move on to the playoffs, or lose and be in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the draft. Will that luck buy Marc Bergevin another year at the helm?

Edmonton Oilers
Back in the playoffs for the first time in years, the Oilers have the benefit of home ice, even if there won’t be fans in the stands. The time off should allow Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom to to recuperate so they can get ready to play absurd minutes every night.

And, all the while, they’ll get arguably the worst team of the 24, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the best-of-five series.

Losers

Nashville Predators
Nashville has been all over the place this season, but it felt as though it was getting its act together around the time the season paused. Now, all that momentum has been stalled and the Preds will face an exciting Coyotes team that will have both goalies, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, healthy.

The Predators might be the sixth seed here, but they don’t feel like convincing favorites.

New York Islanders
The Islanders have a sneaky-challenging matchup in the Florida Panthers. We saw last season what Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, then of the Columbus Blue Jackets, is capable of in the postseason, and if he finds that level in the restart it could be a real challenge for the Isles.

New York has had a chaotic season, and the Panthers certainly have the skill to create some further chaos.

Boston Bruins
The Bruins were eight points clear of second place atop the Eastern Conference standings at the time of the season’s pause, so if the league made the round-robin tournament only count toward teams’ already accumulated points in the standings, Boston could’ve lost every game and still held on to the top spot.

Instead, the Bruins could find themselves fall as far as the fourth seed in the conference. Or, in other words, the Bruins being a buzzsaw during the regular season means pretty much nothing, unless there is a tie in the seeding, in which case the Bruins hold the points percentage tiebreaker over the other team.

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Thumbnail photo via James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports Images

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