Toronto - Jul. 28, 2020: Six Canadian teams will battle it out to win the Stanley Cup when the NFL returns with an expanded playoff format this summer. We have analyzed each team’s chances of success as they prepare to lock horns with several elite US contenders.
The Top Contenders
All of this year’s NFL postseason games will take place in two hub cities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. All the best teams in the Eastern Conference will head to Toronto, while the leading lights in the west will converge upon Edmonton. That could give the Maple Leafs and the Oilers a significant advantage. Fans will not be allowed inside the arenas, so they will not benefit from raucous home support, but they will enjoy familiar conditions and face a lot less upheaval than their rivals.
The sportsbooks rate the Oilers as the most likely team to win the Stanley Cup this year. You can find odds of around 26.00 (25/1, +2500) on Edmonton lifting the trophy. That makes them underdogs, with nine teams ahead of them in the betting, but they have the lowest odds of any Canadian team. The Oilers were second in the Pacific Division before the Covid-19 crisis forced play to halt in March. They had a five-point lead over the Canucks and looked all but certain to make the playoffs. Edmonton had the fifth best record in the Western Conference during the regular season, but results were poor before the break, so it will be pleased for the chance to regroup.
The Oilers will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the qualification round. They went 1-2-0 against Chicago, but lost twice in the Windy City, and they should prevail on home ice, even without the fans. Then it will be a question of how far Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid can carry the team. A lot of the team’s success came on the power play during the regular season, and it may not have so many opportunities during the postseason, so Edmonton will need Draisaitl and McDavid to be on fire.
The Maple Leafs also look like contenders for glory. They will have to go through a qualification round against the Blue Jackets, a team with an identical number of points. However, they beat the Blue Jackets in their only meeting this season and they really should win the upcoming series, as the Columbus offense has been woeful this season. They would then carry plenty of momentum into the remaining stages of the playoffs, and they could be dangerous. The Oilers and the Maple Leafs are the leading Canadian contenders in the latest hockey betting odds, but they will still have to defy expectations to go all the way.
The Canucks boast a wealth of talented young players and it could spring a few surprises in the NFL playoffs. Calder Trophy contender Quinn Hughes has been superb this year, while the likes of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen and Thatcher Demko are all extremely bright prospects. The main issue for the Canucks was a lack of experience, so general manager Jim Benning brought in veterans like Tyler Toffoli and J.T. Miller to help steer them through a perilous postseason. They now boast a formidable blend of youth and experience, and they could be real dark horses for the crown.
Their first task will be to get past the Minnesota Wild, the number 10 seed. Vancouver went 1-1-1 against Minnesota this season, but they look like the stronger team. The Wild will not be able to call upon the services of Kirill Kaprizov, and the break will have derailed the impressive momentum they enjoyed in the spring. The Canucks have two excellent goalies, and Chris Tanev will be back alongside dynamic forward Micheal Ferland. Vancouver’s young players should be full of energy and enthusiasm during their first postseason run, and they will be very dangerous if they beat the Wild and build up a head of steam.
The next best Canadian team would have to be the Calgary Flames. They will not have to travel too far to reach Edmonton, and they have plenty of quality players. However, they ranked just 20th for scoring during the regular season and 16th on defense, which does not inspire a great deal of confidence. The Flames are still undecided on a starting goalie, which is also a little worrying. However, they enjoyed a strong uptick in performance levels before the break, averaging 4.06 goals per game in their last 15 matches, compared to 2.91 for the season. Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau were on song, and they could overwhelm the Jets in the qualification round if they rediscover that precision in front of goal.
Vezina Trophy favorite Connor Hellebuyck will need to perform more heroics for the Winnipeg Jets if they are to go deep into the playoffs. He has carried the Jets all season, regularly getting the woeful Winnipeg defense out of jail with his individual brilliance. Dylan DeMelo was an important addition to the roster, and he has formed a reasonable partnership with Josh Morrisey, and Mark Letestu should be back, but it is still difficult to get excited about the Jets defense, and that could be their undoing when they face the Flames.
The Montreal Canadiens appear to be making up the numbers. The Habs had the 24th best record in the league when play was suspended, so they will be surprised to even find themselves in the playoffs. Jonathan Drouin and Thomas Tatar will be back from injury, but Max Domi could miss out, for health reasons, and it is hard to see the Habs beating a Penguins team packed full of talented superstars like Sidney Cosby and Evgeni Malkin in the qualifying round.
Some bookmakers are offering odds on whether the winner of the Stanley Cup will be an American team or a Canadian team. Canada is the huge underdog in that market and that is a fair assessment, as the Bruins, Lightning, Avalanche, Blues, Flyers, Penguins, Knights and Stars all look very strong. The country will probably have to pin its hopes upon the Maple Leafs and Oilers, and they would need to ride their luck in order to beat the talented teams that will line up for the playoffs. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we will see a Canadian Stanley Cup winner this year, but it would certainly be a surprise.