Return to Play: Western Conference
Stanley Cup Qualifiers to include four best-of-5 matchups to determine who will face bye teamsby Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
The NHL announced its Return to Play Plan on May 26.
The season, which was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, is scheduled to restart Aug. 1 with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in two hub cities, each hosting 12 teams from one conference. The 12 Eastern Conference teams will be based in Toronto, the 12 Western Conference teams will be based in Edmonton.
The top four teams in the Eastern or Western Conference will play each other once (three games per team) in a round-robin to decide the top four seeds for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These games will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules, with ties in the final standings broken by regular-season points percentage. The four teams from the Western Conference are the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars.
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The other eight Western teams, seeded by points percentage, will play in four best-of-5 series in the qualifiers, with the winners advancing to play against the top four seeds. These games will be played with playoff overtime rules.
Here are those best-of-5 series matchups and breakdowns:
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
Oilers: 37-25-9, 83 points (.585 points percentage)
Blackhawks: 32-30-8, 72 points (.514)
Oct. 14: Blackhawks 3, Oilers 1, at CHI
Feb. 11: Oilers 5, Blackhawks 3, at EDM
March 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3, at CHI
Oilers: Defenseman Mike Green (knee) and forward Joakim Nygard (hand) are expected to return to the lineup. Green, acquired in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 24, missed the last seven games before the season was paused, and Nygard the last 21.
Blackhawks: Chicago could have defenseman Calvin de Haan (shoulder) healthy when play resumes. He was expected to miss 4-5 months after having surgery Dec. 27. The status of forwards Andrew Shaw (concussion) and Zack Smith (hand) is less clear.
The Oilers had their issues playing against the Blackhawks in the regular season, but their win somewhat surprisingly came without center Connor McDavid in the lineup. Edmonton has the advantage, especially on special teams, where it was first in the NHL on the power play (29.5 percent) and second on the penalty kill (84.4 percent). The Oilers also have the top two scorers from the regular season, forward Leon Draisaitl (110 points) and McDavid (97 points).
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
Predators: 35-26-8, 78 points (.565)
Coyotes: 33-29-8, 74 points (.529)
Season series tied
Oct. 17: Coyotes 5, Predators 2, at ARI
Dec. 23: Predators 3, Coyotes 2, at NSH
Predators: They were mostly healthy when the season was paused except for defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who missed the last four games with a lower-body injury.
Coyotes: Forward Conor Garland and defenseman Jakob Chychrun each is likely to return to the lineup from a lower-body injury. Each was week to week when the season was paused. Garland led the Coyotes with 22 goals in the regular season, and Chychrun scored 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 63 games.
One of the interesting storylines will be Predators coach John Hynes going against Coyotes forward Taylor Hall, who won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18, when Hynes was Devils coach. Another storyline will be the Predators' goalie situation because there was a changing of the guard before the season was paused, with Juuse Saros starting 14 of their last 18 games. Will Saros continue as the No. 1, or will Nashville go back to veteran Pekka Rinne? The Coyotes were trending in the wrong direction before the season was paused, going 8-13-4 in their last 25 games, but get a chance at a fresh start.
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
Canucks: 36-27-6, 78 points (.565)
Wild: 35-27-7, 77 points (.558)
Jan. 12: Canucks 4, Wild 1, at MIN
Feb. 6: Wild 4, Canucks 2, at MIN
Feb. 19: Wild 4, Canucks 3 (SO), at VAN
Canucks: Goalie Jacob Markstrom is expected to be back, and forwards Micheal Ferland and Josh Leivo could be healthy. Markstrom (23-16-4, 2.75 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) was out with a knee injury when the season was paused. Ferland, who has not played for Vancouver since Dec. 10 because of recurring concussion symptoms, is symptom-free and close to being ready to play, according to TSN. Leivo was recovering after fracturing his kneecap Dec. 19 against the Golden Knights. The injury was expected to keep him out 2-3 months, but general manager Jim Benning was less optimistic April 29 when discussing his possible return this season.
Wild: Defenseman Carson Soucy is the only player who was injured, and he is expected to return. He missed the last nine games before the pause with an upper-body injury.
Markstrom's return is the biggest advantage for the Canucks. He's in the final season of a three-year contract and can become an unrestricted free agent. A strong showing in this series could help him in contract negotiations. The Wild were coming together before the season was paused, going 12-5-1 in their last 18 games. Will Minnesota forward Kevin Fiala, who scored 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) in those 18 games, be able to pick up where he left off?
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
Flames: 36-27-7, 79 points (.564)
Jets: 37-28-6, 80 points (.563)
Oct. 26: Jets 2, Flames 1 (OT) at Regina, Saskatchewan
Flames: Defenseman Travis Hamonic, who missed the last 14 games before the season was paused with an upper-body injury, likely will be ready to return.
Jets: Forward Bryan Little, who last played Nov. 5 when he sustained a concussion and punctured eardrum against the Devils when he was hit in the head by teammate Nikolaj Ehlers' shot, could return depending on upcoming visits with doctors, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. Little played seven games this season but had five points (two goals, three assists), including the overtime goal against the Flames in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic. Defensemen Luca Sbisa (upper body, missed last 11 games) and Sami Niku (lower body, 10 games) likely will be available.
The Jets have the advantage at goalie, and that should give them the edge in the series. Connor Hellebuyck had a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, going 31-21-5 with a 2.57 GAA, a .922 save percentage and six shutouts. It will be interesting to see which goalie the Flames start. Do they go with David Rittich (24-17-6, 2.97 GAA, .907 save percentage) or Cam Talbot (12-10-1, 2.63 GAA, .919 save percentage)? Each started six of Calgary's last 12 games before the pause, but Talbot was thriving (2.42 GAA, .922 save percentage) and Rittich was struggling (3.71 GAA, .885 save percentage). The pause may even things out and elevate Rittich back to No. 1.