As we get closer to a return to play in the NHL, we hope to see the 24-team playoff format work out. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the phases of the league’s plan to return on Tuesday. There are a lot of details to iron out, so believing this format happens could just be wishful thinking.
Related: Vladislav Tretiak – Goaltending Guru
In this piece, we will be going over the stats and results of an EA Sports NHL 20 simulation of the format. First, I did a 16-team, best of five round for the preliminary round to determine which teams will make it into the 16-team bracket.
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets
Series Results: TOR, 3-0
This series did not live up to the hype, as the Toronto Maple Leafs swept the Columbus Blue Jackets in three games. Morgan Rielly led the way for the Leafs with a goal and six assists over the three games. This is a massive disappointment for the Blue Jackets, but after losing as much as they did in the offseason, this is not a bad finish.
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
Series Results: PIT, 3-0
After being swept in the first round last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins sweep the Montreal Canadiens this year. A young Canadiens team that many believe does not belong proves to not be ready to contend in this series.
Conor Sheary, a trade deadline acquisition for the Penguins, led the way with a goal and seven assists.
No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
Series Results: FLA, 3-2
A back-and-forth series leads to a close win for the Florida Panthers in five games. The New York Islanders end with a disappointing exit, one year after sweeping the Penguins in the opening round. For the Panthers, this is a big series win for a starving fanbase led by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who had a .939 save percentage (SV%) over the five games. Bobrovsky makes up for his lackluster regular season.
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
Series Results: NYR, 3-2
Another close series and the New York Rangers enter the playoffs for the first time since 2017. The Carolina Hurricanes lose this series after making a run to the Eastern Conference Final last year – a disappointing defeat.
Young defenseman Adam Fox tallied two goals and two assists to lead the way for the Rangers.
No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets
Series Results: WPG, 3-1
Yet another disappointing series for the Calgary Flames, dropping this series to the Winnipeg Jets. The Flames follow up last year’s first-round exit, with this loss. The Jets enter the 16-team format and will face a top team in the Western Conference to try and move on. Mark Scheifele scored six points in this series, while Connor Hellebuyck carried a .935 SV%.
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks
Series Results: EDM, 3-1
Despite having the experience, the Chicago Blackhawks fail to keep up with Connor McDavid and Edmonton Oilers, losing in four games. This was a great series for Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen, as he put up a .921 SV% over the four games.
The Oilers will be a tough team to beat with their offensive firepower.
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
Series Results: MIN, 3-2
The Minnesota Wild take down a young, star-studded Vancouver Canucks team. Despite having players like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, and others, a veteran Wild team takes them down. Bo Horvat’s seven points over five games weren’t enough to capture the series win. The Wild were led by Zach Parise and his five points.
No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes
Series Results: NSH, 3-1
After losing the first game of the series, the Nashville Predators rally and take the next three. The Arizona Coyotes did not have the offense to keep up with the Predators, especially with the impressive blue line in Nashville.
The Predators were led by goaltender Pekka Rinne, who had a .925 SV%, as well as defenseman Yannick Weber with two goals and an assist.
Qualifying Round Statistical Leaders:
- Eastern Conference: Conor Sheary (PIT) – 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points
- Western Conference: Bo Horvat (VAN) – 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points
- Eastern Conference: Morgan Rielly (TOR) – 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points
- Western Conference: Josh Morrissey (WPG) – 0 goals, 4 assists, 4 points
- Eastern Conference: Sergei Bobrovsky (FLA) – 3-2-0 record, .939 SV%
- Western Conference: Pekka Rinne (NSH) – 3-1-0 record, .925 SV%
Before we reach the 16-team playoff simulation, keep in mind that I re-seeded the qualifying teams. What that means is the No. 1 seeds will play the highest-seeded qualifying teams (No. 11 Rangers will play No. 1 seed, etc.). I did not simulate on the round-robin of the four seeds, so seeds 1-4 will be based on regular-season point percentage. Let’s get into the 16-team playoff.
No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
Series Results: BOS, 4-2
The defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins take care of business against the New York Rangers. The Bruins went up 3-0 in the series and took care of it in six games.
David Krejci tallied a goal and eight assists in the six games, while goaltender Tuukka Rask put up a SV% of .938.
No. 4 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Series Results: PHI, 4-3
The series of Pennsylvania ends in a 3-1 comeback for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins once again fall in the first round of the playoffs, this time at the hands of a direct rival. Evgeni Malkin’s nine points weren’t enough to finish the series for the Penguins. The Flyers were led by defenseman Ivan Provorov with his one goal and four assists, as well as goaltender Carter Hart with his .911 SV%.
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
Series Results: TBL, 4-1
Another intrastate battle, this time between the two Florida teams. The Tampa Bay Lightning avenge their first-round exit of 2019, taking care of the Panthers in five.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy carried a .930 SV% in this series, a dominant series overall for Tampa.
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs
Series Results: TOR, 4-0
By far the most surprising results of the simulation thus far, a sweep of the 2018 champion Washington Capitals, by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Due to the re-seeding that I did, the Leafs avoid the Bruins, to their delight. The Capitals struggled to find the back of the net in this series, leading to Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen posting a .939 SV%.
No. 1 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
Series Results: STL, 4-2
The defending champion St. Louis Blues advance in the first round after another series win over the Wild, they beat Minnesota in 2017 as well.
Blues’ captain Alex Pietrangelo led the way with two goals and five assists in the six games. Worthy of note that Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington had a .926 SV% in the series.
No. 4 Dallas Stars vs. No. 5 Edmonton Oilers
Series Results: EDM, 4-0
Another sweep in the simulation, this time it comes with the Oilers taking care of the Dallas Stars. Koskinen came up with another big series for Edmonton here, with a .914 SV%. The lack of scoring for the Stars came back to bite them against a high-flying Oilers team, a disappointing finish in Dallas.
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets
Series Results: WPG, 4-1
The Jets continue their hot play and upset the Colorado Avalanche in five games. Winnipeg is now 7-2 between the qualifying round and the first round. The same players carry the Jets, as Scheifele had 10 points and Hellebuyck carried a .923 SV%. Disappointing finish for a very talented Avalanche team.
No. 3 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 6 Nashville Predators
Series Results: NSH, 4-3
Despite 10 points from Max Pacioretty and 9 from Mark Stone, the Vegas Golden Knights fall in seven games to the Predators. Vegas is unable to reach the second round for the second straight season.
Nashville now moves onto face a Central Division foe, the Winnipeg Jets, in the second round. The last Central Division team that Nashville played in the playoffs was the Stars in 2019, where they lost in six games.
Post-First Round Statistical Leaders
- Eastern Conference: Evgeni Malkin (PIT) – 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points
- Western Conference: Max Pacioretty (VGK) – 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points
- Eastern Conference: Kris Letang (PIT) – 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points
- Western Conference: Alex Pietrangelo (STL) – 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points
- Eastern Conference: Frederik Andersen (TOR) – 4-0-0 record, .939 SV%
- Western Conference: Jordan Binnington (STL) – 4-2-0 record, .926 SV%
No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 4 Philadelphia Flyers
Series Results: BOS, 4-2
The simulation has the Bruins heading to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight year, taking the Flyers down in six games. After having nine points in the first round, Krejci added on five more and is up to 14 points for the playoffs. The Flyers finish with three defensemen having seven points with Matt Niskanen, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Justin Braun, but they fall in round two.
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs
Series Results: TBL, 4-0
Despite a first-round win, the Leafs get stomped by the Lightning in round two. After this round, Vasilevskiy is 8-0-1 in the playoffs with a .932 SV%, their leading scorer by a wide margin is forward Nikita Kucherov with eight goals and seven assists for 15 points.
Tampa Bay avenges their disappointing 2019 playoff loss with a trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
No. 1 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Edmonton Oilers
Series Results: EDM, 4-2
The Blues fall in round two to the Oilers here, in six games. St. Louis’ big defensive group had trouble keeping up with the speed and skill of the Oilers, McDavid took the series over – he’s up to 16 points in the playoffs after this series.
No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets
Series Results: WPG, 4-3
The Jets survive and advance in a hard-fought seven-game series against the Predators. Winnipeg was led by Neal Pionk on the blue line with his eight points and a .935 overall SV% now for Hellebuyck in the playoffs, safe to say he’s playing up to his Vezina-caliber potential in this simulation.
We are now in for an all-Canadian Western Conference Final series.
Post-Second Round Statistical Leaders
Please note that these stats are all added up over the first two rounds of the playoffs to this point.
- Eastern Conference: Nikita Kucherov (TBL) – 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points
- Western Conference: Connor McDavid (EDM) – 8 goals, 8 assists, 16 points
- Eastern Conference: Matt Niskanen (PHI) – 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points
- Western Conference: Neal Pionk (WPG) – 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
- Eastern Conference: Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL) – 8-0-1 record, .932 SV%
- Western Conference: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) – 8-3-1 record, .935 SV%
No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning
Series Results: TBL, 4-1
A series between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference is dominated by the Lightning, taking the Bruins down in five games. If the series did happen in real life, it could easily go seven. Two strong teams with great offensive ability, defensive power, and tremendous goaltending.
The Bolts assert their dominance though, as Kucherov adds five more points during the simulation and has 20 for the playoffs now. The one loss for Tampa Bay was in overtime, meaning that Vasilevskiy now possesses a record of 12-0-2 for the playoffs.
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets
Series Results: EDM, 4-1
Both Conference Finals series end in five or fewer games each for the first time since 2013 when Boston swept Pittsburgh and Chicago beat Los Angeles in five games. The Oilers dominated the Jets and will be the first Canadian team in the Stanley Cup Final since the Canucks in 2011. McDavid scored seven goals in these five games and is up to 23 points in the playoffs.
Now we will see a matchup between some of the best players in the league – McDavid and Draisaitl against Kucherov and Stamkos. This would be a fun series to watch and it should be interesting to see the simulation of it.
Post-Conference Finals Stats
- Eastern Conference: Nikita Kucherov (TBL) – 10 goals, 10 assists, 10 points
- Western Conference: Mark Scheifele (WPG) – 8 goals, 16 assists, 24 points
- Eastern Conference: Torey Krug (BOS) – 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points
- Western Conference: Mike Green (EDM) – 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points
- Eastern Conference: Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL) – 12-0-2 record, .945 SV%
- Western Conference: Mikko Koskinen (EDM) – 12-3-0 record, .913 SV%
Stanley Cup Final
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Edmonton Oilers
Score: EDM 5, TBL 2
The Oilers take Game 1 over the Lightning 5-2. They scored three in the first period, as well as two in the third. Tampa Bay scored two in the first, but could not capitalize after that. Oscar Klefbom led the way for Edmonton with his two goals, while Koskinen stopped 33 out of 35 shots.
Score: EDM 5, TBL 2
The same score and result in Game 2, the Oilers winning 5-2. The game was tied at 1-1 after the first period, but Edmonton had a huge second period with three goals. McDavid led the Oilers in this one, recording a four-point game, two goals, and two assists. Koskinen was dominant again, with 42 saves on 44 shots. The Oilers now hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
Score: TBL 6, EDM 1
A huge response game for the Lightning to get their first Stanley Cup Final win since Game 2 in 2015. They came out firing with four goals in the first period. They also held the Oilers scoreless in the final two periods. Alex Killorn tallied a goal and two assists in this one. Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk also scored a goal and an assist in this game.
Score: EDM 8, TBL 4
Game 4 was an especially high-scoring affair, with the Oilers winning 8-4 and taking a 3-1 lead in the series. Edmonton scored three goals in the first, two in the second, and three more in the third. McDavid tops his four-point game with a five-point game in this one, a goal and four assists for the captain.
Score: EDM 6, TBL 5 (OT)
For the first time since 1993, we have a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup. The Oilers win their sixth title in franchise history and first since 1990. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallied two goals and two assists in this game, as well as the overtime winner to cap the series off.
The Oilers finish off a 16-4 playoff run with a title, taking down a supremely talented Lightning team in five games. More heartbreak for Tampa Bay, who hasn’t won a championship since 2004.
Stanley Cup Champs: Edmonton Oilers
Conn Smythe: Connor McDavid
Overall Playoff Scoring Leaders:
- Connor McDavid (EDM) – 20 goals, 16 assists, 36 points
- Nikita Kucherov (TBL) – 12 goals, 15 assists, 27 points
- Leon Draisaitl (EDM) – 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points
- Mark Scheifele (WPG) – 8 goals, 16 assists, 24 points
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) – 5 goals, 19 assists, 24 points
- Oscar Klefbom (EDM) – 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points
- Mike Green (EDM) – 3 goals, 9 assists, 12 points
- Kevin Shattenkirk (TBL) – 2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points
- Darnell Nurse (EDM) – 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points
- Mikhail Sergachev (TBL) – 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points
- Mikko Koskinen (EDM) – 16-4-0 record, .909 SV%
- Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL) – 13-3-3 record, .919 SV%
- Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) – 9-5-3 record, .923 SV%
- Tuukka Rask (BOS) – 9-6-2 record, .925 SV%
- Pekka Rinne (NSH) – 7-7-0 record, .907 SV%
Wrapping up the Simulation
The simulation has the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup, and in dominating fashion, going 16-4 overall. Arguably the best duo in the league with McDavid and Draisaitl build onto their legacy with their first title together. The defending champion Blues lose in the second round, while the reigning runner-up Bruins lose in the conference finals.
We can all just hope that the playoffs happen and that the NHL can get it done safely.