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Should the NHL be able to resume the 2019-20 season, all indications are the league will jump into an expanded playoffs featuring 24 teams.
The top four sides in each conference will get a bye. The rest of the teams will have to win a somewhat shortened series (BO5?) to earn a spot in the 16-team dance.
Here is a look at what matchups we’d be getting:
Under normal circumstances, seemingly everyone was hoping for the rest of the regular season to play out in a way that would lead to Calgary vs Edmonton in the opening round.
That’s not going to happen but Calgary is still destined to draw another Western Canadian foe.
I’ll dive much more into a potential series with Winnipeg if and when things are signed off. In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few pros and cons of that draw.
• Winnipeg is a bad 5v5 team. Very bad, in fact. Only Detroit and New Jersey – two complete bottom feeders – controlled a lesser share of the chances than Winnipeg. The Jets posted a negative goal differential in that gamestate, too, so the problems in their process did shine through in the end result. While Calgary was hardly as dominant as a season ago, their share of the shots, chances, and expected goals was several percentage points higher than Winnipeg’s. They should have an edge.
• Calgary should also get much better play from their blueline. When healthy, they’ll dress a top-6 of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, and Erik Gustafsson (presumably with Derek Forbort as the No. 7).
Even with Hamonic and Hanifin perceived to be better than they actually are, that’s a much more potent group than what Winnipeg would trot out. The Jets’ projected top-6 features Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo, Dmitry Kulikov, Tucker Poolman, and Nathan Beaulieu. It’s not hard to understand why the Jets were so consistently out-chanced.
• Another key position Calgary has an edge: center. Sean Monahan is a roller coaster ride, as we all know, but he can score goals in bunches. Mikael Backlund is an awesome two-way center, and Derek Ryan has been very good in the 3C spot for Calgary. I’d definitely take that group over Winnipeg’s top-3 of Mark Scheifele (like Monahan, his defensive impact has been concerning at times), Cody Eakin (he’s played like a replacement level player this year), and Adam Lowry.
• Connor Hellebuyck. Only one of 30 eligible goaltenders (2,000+ minutes) posted a higher save percentage than Hellebuyck this season. That’s remarkable, especially considering the workload he’s faced. Not just in terms of games played, but the quality of shots he faces each and every night.
Nobody stopped more high-danger shots, and nobody saved more goals above expectation than Hellebuyck. I think he has a very strong case for the Vezina Trophy.
While I do like David Rittich quite a bit, I’d be ignorant to suggest he’s on the same level as Hellebuyck. Goaltending is the great equalizer and the Jets have the better netminder.
• Winnipeg used to be a very undisciplined team. During the peak of their powers a couple of years ago, they were ultra physical; almost to a fault. They’ve clearly gotten control of themselves because no team spent less time shorthanded on a per game basis than the Jets. It’s tough to win the special teams battle against a team that doesn’t take penalties.
• Raw firepower. Say what you want about Winnipeg’s inability to control the run of play or their issues on defense. They have gamebreakers – and plenty of them. Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nik Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Scheifele are all high-end offensive producers who can flip the game on its head any given shift. You need depth to go deep but anything can happen in one round, especially with a couple of games trimmed off. These stars have the ability to steal a series.
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