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NHL Playoff 2020 Betting Strategy & Guide for 24-Team Format

Adrian Dater for Bookies.com

Adrian Dater  | 6 mins

NHL Playoff 2020 Betting Strategy & Guide for 24-Team Format

Welcome to the NHL Playoffs — The Twilight Zone Edition.

Twenty-four teams total. Two groups of 12, playing in off-site “hub” cities, one for each conference. Round-robin tournaments to establish top-four seeding. Best-of-five “play-in” series among the other eight teams in each conference. Possible best-of-five first AND second-round series. All the games with no fans in the seats.

We may still be in the midst of a global pandemic, but the NHL this week became the first major North American pro sports league to forge ahead with plans to hold a postseason. It will be weird. It will be unprecedented. But it will still be playoff hockey, and couldn’t we all use a little of that right now, no matter how contrived it may seem to some?

For fans of NHL betting, this is welcome news, too, as we can look at the format and the latest NHL odds and identify early betting strategies and advantage.

Setting the Playoff Pecking Order

NHL Playoff 2020 Betting Strategy & Guide for 24-Team Format 3

The top four teams in each conference, in terms of regular season points percentage, will hold a round-robin tourney to establish seeding. In the East, those teams are Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. In the West, they are St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas and Vegas.

Those games will include overtime and shootout rules to determine the outcomes, if necessary. If, say, Colorado and St. Louis each go 2-1 in the round-robin tourney to establish seeding, St. Louis would gain the higher seed based on points percentage from the regular season.

The bottom eight teams in each conference will fight it out in a best-of-five play-in series among themselves, with the four surviving teams playing whichever numbered top-four seed already established.

There is still discussion among the league and NHL Players Association about whether to continue with a bracket system, or whether to reseed. Stay tuned.

The Bottom Matchups

We already have the matchups for the best-of-five play-in series. These are the so-called “qualifying round” series and will be played with playoff overtime rules. This, the NHL felt, was the fairest way to settle the top eight true playoff teams in lieu of scrapping the rest of the regular season.

The Eastern Conference play-in, best-of-five series matchups look like this: No 5. Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens; No. 6. Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers; No. 7. Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers; No. 8. Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets. In the West, the play-in matchups look like this: No. 5 Oilers vs. No. 12 Blackhawks; No. 6 Predators vs. No. 11 Coyotes; No. 7 Canucks vs. No. 10 Wild; No. 8 Flames vs. No. 9 Jets.

NHL Playoff Betting Strategies

NHL Playoff 2020 Betting Strategy & Guide for 24-Team Format 1

Look For 1st-Round Upsets

More teams mean more chances of first-round upsets — and a hallmark of the NHL playoffs has always been its first-round upsets. In last season’s first round, for instance, all four bottom-seeded teams knocked off the four top-seeded teams — the first time that’s ever happened.

I’ll tell you one team I already feel good about in a short series is the No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks. They’ll play the Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-five, and that’s got “potential upset” written all over it. Veterans such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, with a goalie, Corey Crawford, have all won multiple Stanley Cups. I’d be nervous if I was an Oilers fan. By the way, if you really like the Blackhawks to make a run, go to FOXBet right now and grab them while you can for +5000 to win the Western conference … or +8000 to win it all.

Age a Double-Edged Sword

The shorter series for the “play-in” tournament, I feel, will be better for the older, more experienced teams like Chicago. The longer, best-of-seven series will see the younger, faster teams have an advantage in my book. Also, look for teams with veteran goalies who have had some playoff success in the past, for those round-robin and play-in series. Carey Price, fresh off a three to four-month rest, only has to win three games — not four — to knock out the No. 5 Penguins. Crawford will likely be starting against an Oilers team that lacks a goalie with much of any playoff winning history. In a short series: Advantage, Blackhawks.

The disadvantage for those bottom eight teams in each conference? They will essentially have to win five rounds to win the Stanley Cup, as opposed to the normal four. They’re going to be tired in the long run. (They may only have to win a best-of-five in each of the first two rounds, however. Whether to have the first two rounds best-of-five or the normal best-of-seven is still being discussed). If they go to longer series, age will then become an issue.

Everyone is Healthy

NHL Playoff 2020 Betting Strategy & Guide for 24-Team Format 2

Other things to look for when making round-robin or play-in picks: All teams figure to be fully healthy at the start of the playoffs, so keep an eye on a team like Colorado, which was beset with injuries leading into the final stretch of the regular season and still had the second-best record in the West. That explains why its odds are +900 at DraftKings to win the Stanley Cup and co-favorites at +275 with BetRivers with Vegas to win the West.

Early Risers

Statistics show the team that scores first goes on to win the majority of games, so play close attention to first periods of these initial games. In a short series, falling behind early could be disastrous for even the better teams. Teams that had very good first-period scoring for-against could have the edge here.

Or, not. The conventional already has become the unconventional, so this could be one wacky playoff for bettors. But, hey, at least there will be games to bet upon. Check out the latest NHL futures odds and jump on those early odds.

About the Author

Adrian Dater for Bookies.com
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater writes about the NHL for Bookies.com. The longtime NHL writer spent 25 years at The Denver Post, 20 of which as the beat writer of the Colorado Avalanche.