The NHL regular season will only feature 56 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic and things have changed quite a bit from what we knew as a “normal” season. During this season, there will be four Divisions instead of two Conferences, and the top four teams from each Division will qualify for the postseason.
With that in mind, how’s the NHL playoff picture shaping up in each Division? Let’s find out and take a look.
The Colorado Avalanche not only lead the Honda West Division, but they also own the best point-tally in the league with 60 points after 41 games. They’re a lock to make the postseason and, barring an unexpected meltdown, we could say the same regarding both the Vegas Golden Knights and the Minnesota Wild -- they’re in second and third place of the standings with 56 and 51 points, respectively. The fourth and final playoff spot seems to be a three-team race between the St. Louis Blues (44 points), the Arizona Coyotes (43 points), and the San Jose Sharks (40 points). The Blues are primed to take that spot, though, as they have the strongest attack and the stingiest defense out of those three teams while also putting up the better results of late with three wins in a row.
The Scotia North Division groups the seven Canadian teams and has a clear picture looking towards the postseason, with the Toronto Maple Leafs leading the way with 59 points and owning a six-point advantage over the Winnipeg Jets and a seven-point edge over the Edmonton Oilers. All three teams seem to be safe when it comes to a potential postseason berth, though. The race for the fourth and final playoff berth of the Division seems to go through the Montreal Canadiens, as they sit in fourth place with 43 points -- they have a six-point lead over the fifth-placed them, the Calgary Flames while playing three fewer games than them (38 for Montreal and 41 for Calgary). Barring an epic collapse in the coming weeks, the Canadiens should secure that fourth place sooner than later.
The Discover Central Division has one of the most interesting playoff races in the league, but it’s not related to the final postseason berth -- this time, there’s no clarity on which team will sit at the top of the standings once the season ends. The Carolina Hurricanes currently sit in first place with 58 points after 40 games, but the Tampa Bay Lightning (58 points in 41 games) and the Florida Panthers (56 points across 42 contests) are sitting quite close to them. This is likely to be a three-team race that will go down to the wire, but all three teams seem to be safe when it comes to a postseason berth. The Nashville Predators (47 points), the Chicago Blackhawks (43 points), and, to a lesser extent, the Dallas Stars (41 points) are fighting for the fourth spot, but it’s clear the focus in this Division lies on which team will end up in first place.
Last but not least, the MassMutual East Division also have a similar race to the Central Division when it comes to analyzing which team could end up in first place -- the Washington Capitals have the edge with 58 points, although they are tied with the New York Islanders, a team that has scored fewer goals (125 to Washington’s 146) but has also allowed a league-best 98 goals. The Pittsburgh Penguins are only two points behind them, and they will have something to say about that first place in the standings as well. The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are separated by just four points and all three have a realistic shot at clinching that fourth seed, but the Bruins have the edge since they have a four-point lead over their rivals while also playing two fewer games.