NHL Playoffs 2020: Predicting Top Seeds, Stanley Cup Bracket After Round Robin

Jake RillSenior Analyst IIIAugust 4, 2020

Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel skates to the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings made NHL history when they became the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup. They're still the only eighth-seeded team to win it, as there's been no other underdog to make a similar run during the playoffs since then.

This year, though, there's the potential for more history. With 24 teams playing either round-robin seeding games (top four teams in each conference) or a best-of-five qualifying-round series, there are some that have been seeded Nos. 9-12 in each conference, which means it's possible the Kings will no longer be the lowest-seeded team to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, that would require some big upsets for one of these teams along the way. And that begins in the qualifying round, which got underway Saturday in the bubble cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

Here are predictions for how the bracket for the Stanley Cup playoffs will look following the round-robin seeding games and qualifying round, followed by a breakdown of three sleeper teams to watch this postseason.

             

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Bracket Prediction for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

No. 3 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes

No. 4 Washington Capitals vs. No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins

           

Western Conference

No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

No. 3 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 7 Vancouver Canucks

No. 4 Dallas Stars vs. No. 5 Edmonton Oilers

            

Sleeper Teams to Watch

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes

It's unlikely the Hurricanes will lose to the No. 11-seeded New York Rangers in the qualifying round, especially after they won the first two games of the best-of-five series. So, expect to see Carolina advance, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering it's the No. 6 seed.

However, the Hurricanes could turn into a sleeper team down the line when it gets matched up against some of the top names in the Eastern Conference. They'll be advancing to play one of the top four teams, and it could be any of those depending on how the rest of the round-robin seeding games go.

Carolina has gotten off to a strong start since the NHL returned, outscoring New York 7-3 in its first two games. And the Hurricanes are no stranger to postseason success, after making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals as a wild card last season.

With head coach Rod Brind'Amour leading the way, Carolina could again be a dangerous team this postseason, despite not being quite as strong as the likes of Boston and Tampa Bay. But the Hurricanes are already beginning to prove they could have another deep playoff run in store.

             

No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Speaking of recent playoff success, the Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world last season when they swept the Lightning—the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference—in the first round of the postseason. However, they then lost to the Bruins in the second round.

Perhaps Columbus could make a deeper run this postseason, even though it's a No. 9 seed in the qualifying round and will need to get past a strong Toronto team. However, in the first game of the best-of-five series, the Blue Jackets beat the Maple Leafs 2-0.

It was impressive that Columbus' defense shut down Toronto's offensive attack. The Blue Jackets allowed 2.61 goals per game during the regular season, tied for third best in the NHL, so if they can keep playing that well on that end of the ice, they may not only shut down the Maple Leafs but also other top teams later in the postseason.

The key for Columbus will be its offense, as it scored only 2.57 goals per game during the regular season (tied for 27th in the NHL). If the Blue Jackets get enough offense to pair with their stellar defense, they could be poised for more upset victories this postseason.

                

No. 11 Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes opened their qualifying-round series against the Predators by holding on for a 4-3 win. They got off to a hot start, scoring three goals in the first period, and played well enough down the stretch to hold on for the victory.

That may have also been the beginning of an unexpected playoff run for Arizona, which hadn't been in the postseason since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2012.

So, the Coyotes are clearly hungry, especially after general manager John Chayka stepped down prior to the resumption of the season, which may give them more motivation this postseason.

Arizona's defense has been strong all season, as it ranked tied for third in the NHL with 2.61 goals allowed per game. On offense, it has better veteran leadership than past seasons with Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel, who won two Stanley Cups while playing for Pittsburgh.

Could the Coyotes be the first team to be lower than a No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup? They have a long way to go and a lot of challenges to overcome in order to reach that point. But they could make some noise in the playoffs, especially if they keep playing the way they did in their opener against the Predators.