Last September, before the 2019-’20 NHL season began—and long before the term “novel coronavirus” was part of our vocabulary—the 5280 season preview of the Colorado Avalanche pegged the young team as having “the recipe for a championship future.” At the time, Vegas oddsmakers gave the Avs the fifth-best chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
What happened next, we couldn’t predict. The team suffered a litany of injuries—including to forwards Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, goalie Philipp Grubauer, and center Nazem Kadri—but it just kept winning. When the season was suspended on March 12, the Avs sat in second place in the Western Conference with a 42-20 record and 92 points, trailing only the defending champion St. Louis Blues (42-19, 94 points). That success was due in large part to the play of star center Nathan MacKinnon, who last week was named a Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, given annually to the most valuable player in the league.
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Nearly five months have passed since the NHL shut down due to COVID-19, but this weekend the league is returning for a wild playoff tournament that will, hopefully, last through September for the Avs—who are now healthier and have the third best odds to win the Stanley Cup, according to some oddsmakers. Here’s what’s about to go down.
24 Teams in Canada
Due to the United States’ inability to contain the spread of COVID-19, the NHL opted not to play any of its two-month tournament in American cities. Instead, teams will compete in Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (Western Conference), beginning August 1 with a round-robin and qualifying format that will feature 52 games total over nine days.
Twelve teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences are taking the ice during the first week, with the Avs in a strong position. The top four teams from the Eastern and Western conferences when play was suspended in March—the Avs being one of them—will automatically advance to the first round of the playoffs, but they will still each play each other once in a round-robin format to determine seeding. In Edmonton, the Avs face the Blues on Sunday, August 2, the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, August 5, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, August 8. If they win all of those games or have the most points, they will head to the first round of the playoffs as the number one seed in the Western Conference. At worst, they’ll be fourth.
The additional eight teams in each conference will play simultaneous (and separate) best-of-five game series to determine which four of them will join the top teams. By August 9, the field will be winnowed down from 12 to eight teams in each conference. Then, the first round of the playoffs will begin on August 11; the Avalanche will play a best-of-seven series against whichever Western foe they draw.
The second round of the playoffs are slated to begin on August 25, the third round will begin September 8, and the Stanley Cup Final will begin September 22 in Edmonton—unless the tournament is interrupted for public health concerns.