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Chris Gawlik’s New VGK Weekly Update – 7/27/2020 – Playoff Dark Horses and the Kracken

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The biggest question the National Hockey League faced when the season was abruptly paused over four months ago was “How will the Stanley Cup be awarded?” The NHL vowed to find a way to complete the 2019-2020 campaign.

 

It seemed unreasonable to complete the regular-season games as several teams were either mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs or would need to win out the regular season just to have hope to get to the eight seed. As a result, the NHL adopted a format that gives the top twelve teams from each conference a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. The top four teams from each conference will play round-robin games versus one another to determine their seeding while the fifth through twelfth ranked teams will compete in a five-game “play in” series where the winner advances to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

VGK
Photo Credit: NHL

Several arguments can be made on if this is a fair format or not. The NHL did the best they could with a situation that was anything but fair. “Any plan for the resumption of play by definition can’t be perfect. I’m certain no matter what team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently.” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman found a way to perfectly summarize the NHL’s return to play plan.

All twenty-four remaining teams, plus a few teams that did not “qualify” for the postseason, can find something unfair about this plan. The Boston Bruins had an eight-point lead in the Eastern Conference and were well on their way to the President’s Trophy. Now they must earn their seed through a three-game mini-tournament, even though they were clearly the best team in the regular season. The Bruins earned one hundred points through seventy games. Earning seventy-one points through seventy-one games, the Montreal Canadiens also have a shot at competing for a Stanley Cup.  The New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres earned sixty-eight points through sixty-nine games and will not have a chance to compete for Lord Stanley.

 

A second life has been given to many of the twenty-four remaining teams.  Who is the most dangerous remaining ninth through twelfth seed in each conference?

 

Watch out for the Arizona Coyotes in the West. Arizona made a splash in the offseason acquiring Phil Kessel and made even more noise buying Taylor Hall during the season. Kessel and Hall have been disappointing having logged just thirty goals during the 19-20 campaign. However, with a blank slate and a training camp to gel, I look to them to lead a Coyotes team that has plenty of depth.

If goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta can keep games close, watch out for the Coyotes. I really wanted to find a way to feature the Chicago Blackhawks as a deep sleeper. However, Corey Crawford was deemed unfit to play, although there is an outside chance he makes the trip to Edmonton.

 

VGK
Photo Credit: NHL

Former VGK netminder, Malcolm Subban, may have the opportunity to lead the ‘Hawks to the ice as they compete against the Edmonton Oilers. Captain Jonathan Toews was also hit with the unfit to play designation recently. The Chicago Blackhawks at full health would be tough to compete against in any playoff format.

The Winnipeg Jets will be a threat with Connor Hellebuyck in goal. However, the Dustin Byfuglien saga and his cap hit of $7.6M made it extremely difficult for the Jets to add a piece or two at the trade deadline. The Calgary Flames have enough talent to go around, but I do not see them getting past the Winnipeg Jets in the first round.

 

The New York Rangers in the East are extremely dangerous. The Rangers made perhaps the most significant offseason splash by signing free agent Artemi Panarin. Logging ninety-five points in sixty-nine regular-season games, Panarin showed he could handle the pressure of playing above Pennsylvania Station. Goalie Igor Shesterkin has been amazing, putting up ten wins in just twelve games. Mika Zibanejad had forty-one goals in only fifty-seven games played. There is a ton of talent up and down the Rangers roster. Look to the Rangers to be a sleeper that could emerge from the East.

 

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Photo Credit: Vegas Golden Knights

The Montreal Canadians are getting a lot of attention because of elite netminder, Carey PricePrice can steal a five-game series and upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Montreal can get lucky and win one series, however winning two is a tall order. The Florida Panthers have Stanley Cup pedigree in coach Joel Quenneville, and that experience is the best chance at the Panthers making any type of a run.  The Columbus Blue Jackets were a great story last year in sweeping Stanley Cup favored Tampa Bay Lightning, and a big reason for the sweep was the outstanding play of Artemi Panarin. Panarin is now on the New York Rangers.

 

 

Next week look for my predictions to advance out of the first round, who will represent each conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, and who the Stanley Cup Champion will be.

 

VGK News and notes

 

Oddly enough, there isn’t much to talk about out of City National. Marc Andre Fleury returned to the ice on Friday. Forward Max Pacioretty has missed a couple of practices; at the moment, we know it is not because of COVID-19. Thankfully, the first round is still weeks away. Goalies Marc Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner have been stellar in camp.

 

Sup, Seattle Kraken?

 

VGK
Photo Credit: NHL

The NHL’s thirty-second franchise is the Seattle Kraken. Scheduled to begin play in the 2021-2022 campaign, the Kraken is currently strategizing ways to “draft your favorite player” per their Twitter handle.  Luckily enough, Vegas is exempt from exposing any players to the expansion draft. I must say, Seattle developed a fantastic logo scheme, and their jerseys will fly off the shelves once available. VGK travels to Seattle to open the 2021-2022 NHL regular season on National TV?

Book it!

 

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-Chris Gawlik – Franchise Sports Media

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