- Avalanche, Lightning join Bruins as Stanley Cup co-favorites in wake of NHL Return to Play announcement
- Defending champion St. Louis Blues continue to lag in Stanley Cup odds
- Get all the Return to Play details and updated Stanley Cup odds in the story below
The NHL took a leap forward on Tuesday in its bid to resume play, as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman outlined the league’s plans to close out the regular season and proceed with a 24-team playoff tournament, held in two hub cities.
The news has had an immediate and dramatic impact on the top of 2020 Stanley Cup odds, where the Boston Bruins are now joined by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche as +650 co-favorites.
Odds to Win 2020 Stanley Cup
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+650|
|Vegas Golden Knights||+700|
|St. Louis Blues||+1200|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||+2500|
|New York Islanders||+6000|
|New York Rangers||+6000|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||+8000|
Odds taken May 26
NHL Commits to 24-team Postseason
The NHL has been idle since March 12 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and as part of the league’s “Return to Play” plan, the NHL regular season is now considered complete. Instead of eight teams from each conference qualifying for a playoff spot, the top 12 teams in each conference, based on win percentage, will compete for the Stanley Cup, starting sometime in July.
The @NHL has released a Return to Play Plan for the 2019-20 season.
◾ 24 teams to compete for #StanleyCup
◾ 2 hub cities will host games
◾ Protocol for return to training
◾ Draft Lottery
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
Upon the resumption of play, the top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin to determine the First Round seeding, while a Qualifying Round will see the remaining eight teams in each conference play best-of-five series to earn a berth in the First Round. While the First Round matchups are based on seeding, it remains unclear whether that formula will be used for subsequent rounds or if a bracket format will be adopted.
Lightning Big Winners in Return to Play Plan
Regardless of which format the NHL ultimately uses to determine matchups beyond the First Round, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking like big winners as a return to play draws near. Lagging eight points back of Boston in the Atlantic Division with 12 games remaining, the Lightning looked destined for a tough playoff road before the season was paused, with an opening-round clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs looking likely, followed by a potentially brutal tilt with the Bruins.
NHL 3/11 Standings Atlantic Division (in points):
1) BOS 100
2) TBL 92
3) TOR 81
4) FLA 78
5) MTL 71
6) BUF 68
7) OTT 62
8) DET 39
— Kingshark Sports (@KingsharkSports) March 12, 2020
Indeed, the Lightning look to the proposed round-robin against Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia with a historical edge over their Eastern Conference opponents. In addition to sporting a combined 13-5-1 record against the Bruins, Capitals, and Flyers since the start of the 2018/2019 NHL season, Tampa Bay is now well-positioned to avoid a second-round matchup with a top seed. That is reflected in the Stanley Cup odds, where the Lightning opened the week lagging behind the favored Bruins as a +750 bet.
Overlooked Blues Sport Attractive Odds
Over in the Western Conference, the Avalanche are also on the rise in the wake of Tuesday’s news after opening the week listed alongside Tampa Bay at +750. However, the same cannot be said of the St. Louis Blues, who continue to lag behind the favorites as a +1200 bet to defend their Stanley Cup title.
The regular season is officially over.
Sure, we will have to wait and see who gets the number one seed after the round-robin "tournament", but that won't stop me from saying this:
The St. Louis Blues are the 2020 regular-season champions in the Western Conference. pic.twitter.com/j41Q3mZrdd
— Cam Neisler (@cdneisler) May 26, 2020
The Blues held a narrow lead over Colorado atop the Western Conference standings when the season was paused. But despite entering the pause on a sizzling 10-2-0 run, and sporting an NHL-best 29-11-6 record against conference opponents, the Blues have remained consistent underachievers in the Stanley Cup odds.
West Dominates List of Potential Hub Cities
One of the great unknowns so far in the NHL’s plans for a return to action is where the games will be played. In his Tuesday afternoon statement, Bettman listed 10 cities that are currently under consideration to be the two host cities. The list of candidates includes seven Western Conference cities, including Chicago, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Vancouver, which join Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
I'm thrilled to lend my support for the #Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) bid to be a host/hub city for the @NHL's resumption of play for the 2019-20 season. We hope the NHL will consider bringing back hockey to one of Canada's great hockey cities! #Edmonton #OilCountry #yegcc pic.twitter.com/fqkQBPS8VW
— Don Iveson (@doniveson) May 19, 2020
Of course, it remains unclear as to whether the hub city for each conference will be drawn from each conference. A big part of the selection criteria is likely to be driven by health and safety concerns and avoiding a COVID-19 outbreak at all costs.
Travel Restrictions an Obstacle for Canadian Cities
Edmonton has been widely discussed as a potential hub city. The Alberta capital has weathered the pandemic storm well, offers outstanding hockey facilities, and a climate that is ideal for summer hockey. However, the Canadian government’s current requirement for visitors to Canada to enter a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country could work against the bids by Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.
For sports to return to normalcy, travel restrictions must be lifted between the U.S. and Canada.
Yet, today, Trudeau confirmed the country isn’t there yet, “anyone who arrives from another country will have to follow all the rules of quarantine in an extremely strict manner.” pic.twitter.com/RBX8FyodfW
— Sports Law Lust🎙 (@SportsLawLust) May 3, 2020
That has likely been a contributing factor in both the Maple Leafs’ and Edmonton Oilers’ regression on the Stanley Cup odds following Bettman’s announcement. After opening the week sporting average odds of +1800, the Leafs have tumbled to +2500, where they join the Oilers, who have taken a step back from their average position at +2000.
Pick: St. Louis Blues to win Stanley Cup (+1200)
Let's have fun and keep it civil.