NHL: Way too early playoff predictions

By James Verchen
Jan. 16, 2020

The NHL all-star break is fast approaching and the buyers are starting to separate themselves from the sellers. Contenders are planning moves that will send them on deep playoff runs, and give us an exciting (probably not) trade deadline. Here is how I see the playoffs shaping up, and my way too early bracket.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic:

1) Tampa Bay Lightning

2) Boston Bruins

3) Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan:

1) Pittsburgh Penguins

2) Washington Capitals

3) Carolina Hurricanes

Wildcard:

1) New York Islanders

2) Florida Panthers

The Atlantic's top 3 teams of Boston, Tampa, and Toronto are essentially a lock at this point, the only thing that might change is the seeding. The Lightning have been the hottest team in the league since the holiday break, going 9-1-0 in their last 10 games. The Bruins currently sit atop the division but have had a rough few games as of late, highlighted by a 3-0 loss to Columbus on Tuesday. Toronto is running into some injury problems, including Morgan Rielly's absence for at least the next 8 weeks, but have so much offensive talent that it's impossible to leave them out of the playoff picture (league leading 173 goals this year). Florida also has tons of offensive firepower, but Sergei Bobrovsky has to play up to his $10 million contract for them to be competitive.

The Metro is where things can get a little complicated. Pittsburgh looks like the favourite with the return of Sidney Crosby, who looked like the 2007 version of himself in his 4 point effort against the Wild on Tuesday night, adding to an already dominant Penguins lineup. The Capitals are second in the league with 67 points, behind only the defending champion St. Louis Blues, and have looked unstoppable at some points this season, so they are pretty interchangeable with Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes, Islanders, and Flyers all can make the case for that 3rd spot in the division, but with Philadelphia losing Carter Hart for the next 2-3 weeks and the Islanders subpar offensive front, I see the Hurricanes finishing off the season in the number 3 spot.

Western Conference

Central:

1) St. Louis Blues

2) Colorado Avalanche

3) Dallas Stars

Pacific:

1) Las Vegas Golden Knights

2) Arizona Coyotes

3) Edmonton Oilers

Wildcard:

1) Winnipeg Jets

2) Vancouver Canucks

The Blues have continued their winning ways into this season, and have taken the league by storm with 68 points through 48 games. The Avalanche have been in a slump as of late, but still have a +27 goal differential (1st in the West) on the season due in part to their high scoring trio of Mackinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog. The Stars had plenty of questions coming into the season about where exactly they would finish, but some solid goaltending and sound defense has solidified there spot in the postseason. The Jets have a good shot of making into the 3rd spot of the division, but as of right now I see them as a wildcard team.

The Pacific has been the most surprising division this season, with Arizona Coyotes emerging as one of the favourites in the division, and the once dominant San Jose Sharks not in the picture. The Golden Knights have looked troubling as of late, but with a spark of a coaching change and presumably some deadline moves, this team has the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs. Arizona has had some stellar goaltending and should see the benefits of acquiring Taylor Hall down the stretch. The Oilers have the top 2 scorers in the league this season, but frankly, are still underperforming. The defensive core has some significant holes in it, and they need a consistent goaltender to take the reigns and give them a shot at the second round. Between the Flames and Canucks, both could make the playoffs as the race in the Pacific is neck and neck, but until the Flames' star players start taking on a more significant scoring role, the Canucks have the edge.

Playoff Prediction

As said before, these are way too early and probably won't age well, but here is an early look at the playoff contenders (sorry for the poor quality):