So it appears for now that the 2020 NHL playoffs will still officially be a 16-team tournament, with eight teams from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference. But, with the cancelled season and a few games left that we’ll never know the result of and what the final standings would have been, the NHL has decided to take the top 24 teams (who were all conveniently .500 or better) and have eight teams compete on each side in a qualifying round best-of-five, and the the top four teams on each side play a round robin to determine where they are seeded, one to four. When that is complete, we’ll have our classic eight and eight, 16-team NHL Stanley Cup Playoff best-of-seven series bracket.
There’s plenty information on how this will work, as well as opinion on the match-ups, the fairness of this format, the effect of the undoubtedly softer intensity round robin on the top four, or the advantage a team may have if they happen to be located in what is yet-to-be-determined as one of the host cities.
Our concern and focus is on gambling. Where do we see value? What’s a relevant input to consider? Certainly the last two items mentioned above, the host cities and the top four teams who are already in the tournament, are gambling relevant. There’s an advantage to these arrangements. Sometimes those assumption are already built into the odds. For example, it’s highly likely that one of the hub cities will be Las Vegas. The Golden Knights will get to sleep in their own beds, potentially until they are eliminated or hoist the cup. The Golden Knights are listed at 8.00 on spreads.ca, which is generous as I see them at 6.00 at some other sites. That number you might want to grab early at spreads.ca before it moves. For comparison, we can assume that host city factor is built in as the Colorado Avalanche are listed at 9.00, and they had a better record than the Golden Knights, even with one less game played during the season.
What other city may be a host city? The NHL says they’ve got it down to:
Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Of those cities, only Los Angeles would be a neutral location. In fact, California as a whole is a no-show in the post season as the golden state went 0-for-3 with the Ducks and Sharks also failing to make the .500 cut. All the other potential hubs have their NHL clubs in the mix.
Edmonton has the most modern arena of those on the list, and the best ice for summer conditions almost certainly with its young age and newest technical innovations. But how does it do in terms of accommodations? Probably not as well as some of the other choices. The bigger the city, the more options for hotels, and hotels of the variety that could house families for long term stays.
Vancouver and Minnesota play each other in the opening best-of-five, and certainly if either are named a host city, it’s an advantage over the opponent. What additional criteria would be considered for a hub? An Eastern location for the TV broadcast time convenience? Not as important in a world where there’s no fans in attendance. There’s no reason games couldn’t all be 7 pm Eastern regardless of their longitude. Certainly a low COVID-19 case rate would be top of the list, and Vancouver gets the nod on that out of all locations. Those are my picks for likely hosts; Vegas and Vancouver, with Toronto and Edmonton as more likely than the remainder of the list to have one Canadian and one American hub.
What about that round robin seeding qualifier? Those eight teams will not see the same intensity of action as the teams still needing to secure a spot, and as well, every team has had equal time to cool off. There’s no inertia to rely on now. It’s a restart and past performance may not be indicative of future returns, as they say on brokerage ad disclaimers in uptempo cadence. Are there any teams that we should avoid at their shorter odds? Personally, I’m fading the Flyers. Philly had some incredible late season momentum going with whatever voodoo system Alain Vigneault had conjured up, going 14-3 in February and March before losing the last game of the interrupted season to the newly crowned President’s Trophy winners, the Boston Bruins. With the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, and Penguins all possible match ups on their fight card in the East, I have to avoid that team. Already qualified for the playoffs or not, that is some tough slogging ahead that I can’t get behind at 12.00 odds.
There’s still plenty of legal and logistical hurdles to overcome before the NHL drops the puck, but the working assumption is that we will have playoff hockey and a somewhat proper conclusion to this season, all things considered, some time after Canada Day.