With the re-seeding format, we have no idea who the Nashville Predators will play if they’re fortunate enough to advance past the Arizona Coyotes.
Even more so, it’s impossible to know how each team is going to respond to this crazy situation of restarting the season in a bubble environment with playoff pressure and just one exhibition game to get tuned up against another team.
Before I go any further, I’ve put my objective hat on for the sake of this piece. No homer picks for the Nashville Predators, despite my high confidence that this team is going to look much better in this format than they did back in November and December.
The Nashville Predators, in their own right, should be considered a dangerous team in this format because this veteran team has gotten the chance to recharge the batteries to their team that has the second-oldest roster out of all the playoff teams.
Furthermore, the Predators have the second-most playoff experience of Western Conference playoff teams in terms of combined playoff games played, only trailing the St. Louis Blues:
Breaking down the Phase 4 rosters:
The Blackhawks have the youngest average age, the Islanders have the oldest.
The Bruins edge the Penguins for the most playoff game experience. The Flames have the least. pic.twitter.com/lfI7nmmxVe
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) July 28, 2020
Who should we fear the most in the West?
Looking over the Western Conference teams, it’s pretty simple to start with the top-four teams in the round robin bracket. The St.Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars all had respectable regular seasons and are all worthy contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Out of those teams, the Colorado Avalanche are the team that should be feared the most. I have infinitely more confidence in the Predators winning a series over the Stars, Blues or Golden Knights more so than I do the Avalanche.
The Avalanche rely on speed and pure offensive firepower. You better be prepared to play a near-perfect defensive game that’s turnover free and void of sloppy penalties if you’re going to keep up with the flashy Colorado Avalanche, who were the highest-scoring team in the West during the regular season (3.37 goal/game).
The top two lines for the Avalanche are one of the best in all of the NHL. Nathan MacKinnon has evolved into one of the best players in the league over the past few seasons, and he’s joined by offensive stars like Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky and rookie sensation Cale Makar.
Top to bottom, this team is the team to beat in the West. It’s not the defending Stanley Cup champion St.Louis Blues.
But there’s a team outside of the top-four that I put closely behind the Avalanche as being the most feared team in the West. It’s the Edmonton Oilers. Another team that’s loaded at the top with offensive weapons that can quickly make it a long night for any team’s goaltender.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are one of the best one-two punches we’ve seen on a roster in a while. Having to deal with these two is enough, but the Oilers have gradually built this roster up around the top two superstars.
The Oilers will take on the last team to get into the field with the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks. This is going to be one of the more entertaining series of the opening round. Plenty of offense should be at the forefront, along with plenty of elite superstars on both sides.
Colorado and Edmonton are the two teams I have pegged as the teams to beat in the West. The teams that I think will make the most noise and have the best chance to go deep in this format.
The only thing that really might hold these teams back is they both have average goaltenders. Or at least it appears that way with the likes of Philipp Grubauer (COL), Pavel Francouz (COL), Mike Smith (EDM) and Mikko Koskinen (EDM).
Perhaps one of them gets hot at the right time, and then you’ll really need to fear these two teams because high-scoring offenses to go along with a locked-in goaltender will spell a deep run toward the Stanley Cup Final.
The path to the Western Conference Final
A trip to the Western Conference Final for the Predators would mean this season ended in a huge success, and that John Hynes is the real deal moving forward as this team’s head coach.
If the Predators advance past the qualifying round, then their next opponent could be the Colorado Avalanche. A team that had the clear edge over them in two meetings in the regular season, including a 9-4 crushing that I still haven’t been able to erase from my memory.
It’s worth noting that the Predators played them much closer just before the season pause in late February, losing 3-2.
It all depends on how the re-seeding goes and what the result is of the round robin bracket. I like the Avalanche to claim the top seed, so I think the Predators, as the No.6 seed, should be lucky enough to avoid the Avalanche in the round of 16 because they would be paired with the No.3 or No.4 seed that comes out of the round robin bracket.
The Oilers are the No.5 seed, so the Predators and Oilers can’t be paired until after the round of 16. Again, this is another opponent that had the clear edge over the Predators in the regular season, and even had a 8-3 win in Nashville following the Predators’ loss to Colorado.
I just want no part of these two teams until as late as possible into the playoffs. I’ll take my lumps and hope for the best if it comes after the round of 16.
There’s reason for hope and optimism for the Predators to go deep and get an upset or two, even after the qualifying round. But if they get paired with Colorado in the round of 16, or with Edmonton in the following round, then I’m afraid that’s going to be where it ends.
Judging by how the matchups unfold, it’s very conceivable to think the Predators could catch the right path to the Western Conference Final. They’re not getting past the Oilers or the Avalanche, however, unless a major upset happens.
Mark it down. Sorry to say, but the Avalanche or Oilers will be representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Two high-flying and entertaining teams with plenty of superstars.
There are worse teams to win the Stanley Cup in the West from the perspective of a Predators fan (insert Blackhawks, Stars, Golden Knights, Blues, Jets).