Sports are on their way back and on the first day of August the NHL postseason will actually start when the New York Rangers take to the ice to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at noon on the East Coast.
If you plan on gambling on the playoffs, just remember that not only can an eighth seed make a glorious run if it gets solid defense and a goalie who can “stand on his head,” but now teams will be playing in front of no fans in two cities.
With no spectators, it will be interesting to see how certain teams react and rally around each other during these games in Toronto, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta.
I’ve been doing my research on the favorites and possible sleeper teams to capture the Stanley Cup in this first-ever 24-team playoff format. These are the teams, players and games I’m using to make money during what will be an NCAA basketball type of event (games all day long from early morning to late evening).
The major question heading into the playoffs is how will the “home teams” respond in Toronto and Edmonton?
Maple Leafs to Win Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup: +2800 & +1200
The Maple Leafs have been a bit of a disappointment this season, especially with the offensive weapons they have in Scottsdale, Arizona, native Auston Matthews (80 points), Mitch Marner (67 points) and veteran John Tavares.
If the Leafs can get out of the first round (they have lost the last two years in first-round Game 7s to the Boston Bruins) while playing at home, it could catapult them into more than winnable series with Tampa Bay and Boston.
Oilers to Win Western Conference and Stanley Cup: +2800 & +1400
It is always fun watching the Oilers offense no matter where they are playing. Edmonton actually had a better record on the road than at home this season (three more wins on the road than at home in the same number of games).
Connor McDavid was on pace to have well over 100 points again (97 points) this season but what you may not know is that teammate Leon Draisaitl, the most underrated player in hockey and maybe in the four major sports, had 110 points on the campaign (second straight season with 105+ points).
Both the Oilers and Leafs are more than capable of getting to the Cup and even winning it.
Can the St. Louis Blues Repeat? +800 for Stanley Cup
The Blues have really surprised me, taking right off from where they left off from their Cup run a season ago. They have had a great year by leading the Western Conference in points with 94, they have a balanced scoring attack and had five players with 50-plus points.
Two players who have led the way just like they did last season are veteran standouts Ryan O’Reilly (61 points) and David Perron (60 points). O’Reilly has been outstanding of late and seems to get better with age. The Blues have the players to get to the conference finals, but there is a team or two I like better to get to the finals.
Bruins seek revenge after a disappointing end to 2019: +600 for Stanley Cup
This team certainly is on a mission to return to the Cup and to make sure they win it this time. Goalie Tuukka Rask is No. 1 in the league in goals-against average and is second in save percentage. The Killer B’s are the team to beat in the East based on the stellar defense they play, giving up the fewest goals in the NHL at 174 and holding a +53 goal differential, also a league best.
Minnesota Wild & Vancouver Canucks: Series to go 5 Games +145
I don’t know if these two teams could be any closer. When the season was stopped, they had played the same number of games (69) and the Canucks had one more point than the Wild (78 to 77). They played each other three times and each team scored a total of nine goals.
Minnesota won the season series 2-1 and won the final meeting in a shootout. Both teams also have solid stars that can take over a game at any point. The Wild have veterans Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello while the Canucks are led by JT Miller, who had 72 points, and first-year defenseman Quinn Hughes (45 assists). It would be fitting given how close these two teams are to not only go five games but have the final contest end in overtime as well.
My Sleeper Picks
New York Rangers: +1800 Eastern Conference & +3300 Stanley Cup
The Rangers could make a run if Artemi Panarin is able to carry the team on his back. He finished tied for third in the league in points with the Bruins’ David Pastrnak at 95. The bread man also is second in the league for plus/minus at 36.
Arizona Coyotes: +2500 Western Conference & +5500 Stanley Cup
The Coyotes play boring puck control hockey but that has translated into Arizona being third-best in the league for goals against behind only Dallas and Boston. Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller have led the ‘Yotes in scoring with a combined 89 points this season.
Youngster Conor Garland is a player on the rise, having doubled his offensive output for points from his rookie season. He had 39 points when play stopped, which is excellent for a team that plays mostly defensive hockey. In the offseason, ‘Zona went out and got veteran Phil Kessel for his team leadership – what I hear living here in Phoenix is that everyone rallies around him.
Stanley Cup Matchup: +4000 Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche
Stanley Cup Sportsbook: +700 Colorado Avalanche
This matchup is nice value if Toronto can get out of the first round and get the playoff “monkey off their back.” Goalie Frederik Andersen was second in the East in wins with 29 and this Maple Leafs offense was fourth in the league in goals scored.
This Avalanche team will come in with tons of confidence after knocking out the top-seeded Calgary Flames in five games last year in the Sportsbook round. If not for some questionable calls by the referees in the Sharks series, they would have made the Western Conference finals as an eighth seed.
The Avs are led by Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, scoring machine Nathan MacKinnon, who had his third straight 90-plus point season. Ryan Graves led the league in plus/minus at 40. The Avalanche had a conference-best +46 goal differential, 14 goals better than the next closest team (defending champion St. Louis).
If both teams are able to play their “up and down” style of offense and if you consider which team has the better defense, the Avalanche (surrendering 36 fewer goals than Toronto in the same number of games played), it might be just too much for the Maple Leafs to handle.