The NHL has announced their return and we now know the format for when they do get back to business. How the NHL playoffs will work is we’ll see eight qualifying series (four in each conference) that will be the teams seeded from No. 5 to No. 12 in best-of-five showdowns.
The winners of those series will be the teams that advance and fill out the final NHL playoff spots.
NHL Playoffs Stanley Cup Odds: December 10, 2023
With all of the NJ sports betting sites in the Garden State posting lines on the series, let’s take a closer look at all eight of the NHL playoffs pre-matchups and see who has the edge in the showdowns.
No. 12 Montreal Canadiens vs No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Series Price: Canadiens +166, Penguins -205 at FanDuel Sportsbook
The Canadiens are the biggest dog of the qualifying series round and it’s quite clear why. Not only do they have the fewest points of any team participating, of their 71 games this season, they only had 19 wins in regulation. They entered the break having lost 14 of their last 14.
Meanwhile, they’ll be up against a talented Penguins team that was streaking before the pause. They were decimated by injuries this season but should get back Jake Guentzel. Guys like Zach Aston-Reese and Brian Dumoulin returned right before the break.
I wouldn’t lay this type of juice after such a long layoff but it’s tough to see the Canadiens winning this hear.
Pick: Penguins -205
No. 11 New York Rangers vs No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes
Series Price: Rangers +112, Hurricanes -136 at FanDuel Sportsbook
The Rangers feature the second-youngest roster in the NHL and while some thought it might be a rebuilding year, this team has shown they’re on the rise right now.
They turned a corner in mid-January as the team went 14-7-1 entering the pause. Their offense is dangerous, scoring 3.33 goals per game this season – the fifth-best mark in the NHL – and they had the Hurricanes number, winning all four meetings between the teams.
The Hurricanes will benefit from the break because it means that Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen should return. That will give their blue line a big boost. They’re also the much more experienced team as they went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. However, I’m tempted to go with the Rangers here. They seem to have the Hurricanes number.
Pick: Rangers +112
No. 10 Florida Panthers vs No. 7 New York Islanders
Series Price: Panthers -102, Islanders -120 at FanDuel Sportsbook
The Panthers and Islanders both started their seasons off really well and then faded miserably down the stretch. The team that gets their momentum back is the one that’s going to advance.
Florida was 28-16-5 before entering the break on a 7-10-3 stretch. Meanwhile, the Isles started the year with 22 wins in their first 31 games. They won just 13 of their final 37 contests.
I’m tempted to go with the Isles here as they’re the sounder defensive team and have more playoff experience, making it to the second round last season. On top of that, they swept the season series with the Panthers, holding them to just four goals in three games (Panthers normally average 3.30 goals per game).
Pick: Islanders -120
No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets vs No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs
Two polar opposite teams meet in this one as the Leafs and their potent offense will go up against the Blue Jackets and their struggling offense. The Leafs are lined with big-time scorers like Auston Matthews (47 goals), William Nylander (31) and John Tavares (26). As for the Blue Jackets, they are 27th in goals per game at 2.57.
At the other end of the ice, the Leafs are weak in net with Frederik Andersen and the team’s paltry .901 save percentage. The Blue Jackets were fourth-best in that regard.
Columbus will be one of the biggest beneficiaries from the break as they should get a number of bodies back. They lost 352 man-games to injury this season but should get guys like Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Seth Jones, Alexandre Texier and maybe even Josh Anderson in time.
This is too big of a line on the Leafs right now. To be honest, they probably advance but this is too high a price to pay for a team with goaltending issues.
Pick: Blue Jackets +136
No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks vs No. 5 Edmonton Oilers
Series Price: Blackhawks +134, Oilers -164 at FanDuel Sportsbook
It’s hard to get that excited about laying this type of juice with the Oilers. This is a team that’s been wildly inconsistent this season and even though they’re the No. 5 seed, they were 37-34-9 on the year.
That means they lost six more games than they won. The reason they’re such a big favorite is that the Blackhawks are the team with the fewest points that made the qualifying series.
My main issue here is trusting the Oilers goaltending as they give up 3.30 goals per game. That’s the sixth-highest mark in the NHL. Sure, the Blackhawks are worst at 3.55 – the second-worst mark – but at least goaltender Corey Crawford finished the season well. He had a .927 save percentage with a 2.46 GAA after the All-Star break.
This series is more of a toss-up than the odds indicate. That being the case, I’m siding with the Blackhawks. I’d recommend betting many of these games over as they should be high-scoring affairs.
Pick: Blackhawks +134
No. 11 Arizona Coyotes vs No. 6 Nashville Predators
Series Price: Coyotes +110, Predators -134 at FanDuel Sportsbook
The Coyotes started the year 25-16-4 and then completely hit a wall. They entered the break having won just eight of their final 25 contests. Goaltender Antti Raanta was spectacular early on in the season, posting a save percentage of .914 in October and .931 in November. He dropped to .907 in December and .878 in January. If he steps it up, the Coyotes might have a chance to surprise here.
Pick: Coyotes +110
No. 10 Minnesota Wild vs No. 7 Vancouver Canucks
Series Price: Wild +112, Canucks -136 at FanDuel Sportsbook
In the traditional format, the Wild wouldn’t have made the playoffs but it’s worth noting that while they and the Canucks are three seeds apart, only one point separates them in the standings.
For the Wild to win this series, they’re going to have to find some offense. At 2.56 goals per game, this is one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL (27th). Their goaltending has also been lousy (.904 team save percentage), which suggests they might not go far in the playoffs.
The challenge here is that the Canucks are not much better as their offense scored 2.67 goals per game (25th) and their save percentage is .905. However, Vancouver is a young team on the rise and those young legs should be able to knock the rust off quickly upon return.
Pick: Canucks -136
No. 9 Winnipeg Jets vs No. 8 Calgary Flames
Series Price: Jets -106, Flames -116 at FanDuel Sportsbook
The Flames finished with the most regular-season points in the Western Conference last season but are completely fallen off the map this time around. The main issue is an offense that ranks 20th in goals per game at 2.91, which a far cry from the 3.52 they averaged last season, which was second-best in the NHL.
As for the Winnipeg Jets, they’ve also slipped down the standings this year but a lot of their struggles were early. They started the year 25-23-4 but were 12-5-2 entering the break. If they can regain that momentum, they should be able to beat a Flames team that’s having trouble scoring and that has major issues in net too.
Pick: Jets -106