2020 NHL playoffs betting preview: Bets we like for this postseason


NHL hockey is coming back! After a nearly five-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, the postseason will get under way Saturday.

First up is the qualification round and round-robin seeding component, and the schedule includes five to six games per day. With games staggered throughout the day, this event will have a March Madness-esque feel to it.

Here are some of the bets we like throughout the postseason, from qualification round matchups all the way through Stanley Cup champion picks. Our panel includes ESPN betting analyst Doug Kezirian, ESPN NHL writers Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan, and Vince Masi from the ESPN Stats & Information group.

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise noted.

More: Check out the entire NHL playoffs schedule here.

Columbus Blue Jackets to win Eastern Conference (27-1) and Stanley Cup (60-1)

Masi: The Blue Jackets will get many pieces back from injury, including defenseman Seth Jones as well as forwards Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 14, rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins had the third-highest save percentage in the NHL, and another run like that might be enough to get Columbus deep into the playoffs. If there's one concern, it's the Jackets' offense, which had the lowest even-strength goals per 60 minutes after the All-Star break among the 24 teams returning to play.

Winnipeg Jets to win the Western Conference (25-1) and the Stanley Cup (60-1)

Kaplan: If you're looking for a hipster team to hitch your wagon to, I offer you the Winnipeg Jets. This tournament is as wacky and unpredictable as they come, but the one constant should be goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck was the best (and most dependable) goalie in the league this season; he can single-handedly steal a series. Winnipeg's defense is shaky, but the forward group has a nice mix of grit and talent. And let's not forget there are plenty of veteran faces from their run to the Western Conference finals just two years ago.

Toronto Maple Leafs to win Eastern Conference (9-1) and Stanley Cup (20-1)

Wyshynski: Look, you're either with me or with Masi. The Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets face off in the qualification round. I have the Leafs advancing in four games. From there ... well, you just pray they don't have to face the Bruins, who have dominated them in the playoffs for the past decade. But I like the Leafs on a lark for two reasons. First, because they score at an elite level (3.09 expected goals per game in all situations, third best in the NHL) and there's a chance this made-for-TV, empty arena tournament played after nearly five months off due to a pandemic ends up being an offensive track meet. The second is that if the Leafs were going to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967, it would be in a made-for-TV, empty arena tournament played after nearly five months off due to a pandemic. Plan the parade (that no one can attend due to social distancing mandates)!

Boston Bruins to win Eastern Conference (3-1) and Stanley Cup (6-1)

Kezirian: I would love to pick a long shot, but I just cannot envision a team besides Boston or Tampa Bay prevailing in the Eastern Conference, despite playoff hockey's unpredictable nature. I'll side with the Bruins and the NHL's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The trio accounted for 47% of Boston's goals this season, which does raise some concern for the secondary scoring. However, the defense and goaltending are so solid, thanks to Tuukka Rask's league-best 2.12 goals-against average. I like the B's chances to prevail.

Minnesota Wild to win Western Conference (25-1)

Kezirian: Unlike the Eastern Conference, the West is wide open. The Wild are much better than the future odds would indicate, so I will take my chances and hope they find some goaltending. For context, 25-1 odds translates to 3.8%, and I believe Minnesota's chances are better. And most other books are offering better payouts. Minnesota has scored 3.16 goals per game, which ranks third in the conference, and its power play ranks fifth. The defense is also better than most realize, giving up the fewest high-danger chances in the league by a large margin. The question is the goalie, and we all know that an NHL team can get good goaltending come playoff time.

Vancouver Canucks to beat Minnesota Wild in five games (+375)

Note: At DraftKings
Wyshynski: This series seems ripe to go the distance. The Canucks are a super talented but inexperienced team reliant on their goaltender. The Wild are a workmanlike and experienced team that has been unable to rely on its goaltending. A late-season coaching change made Minnesota more dangerous than it previously was. I think the Wild push a team that's still learning how to win to the limit before they learn how to win in Game 5.

Montreal Canadiens to beat Pittsburgh Penguins in qualifying round (+200)

Masi: The Canadiens are just happy to be here as the 12-seed in the East, but there are some underlying numbers that could give them the edge in a short series. After the All-Star break, the Canadiens had the third-highest scoring chance per 60 minutes rate at even strength, and their expected goals for percentage at even strength was best in the East (per Natural Stat Trick). If goalie Carey Price steals a game, maybe it's a repeat of what happened 10 years ago when the 8-seed Canadiens upset both the Capitals and Penguins.

Victor Hedman to win the Conn Smythe (60-1)

Note: At DraftKings

Wyshynski: I have the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup, which means they're probably going to have the playoff MVP as well. The writers vote on the Conn Smythe, so thinking as a writer, the Lightning have several forwards who could end up being deserving and a goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy who would be the key to victory. But Hedman is a beloved player by the media, as evidenced by his four consecutive Norris Trophy nominations. If the Lightning win and he has the points and the prestige, he'll be the MVP.

Most points in the qualifying series, Patrick Kane (25-1)

Note: At DraftKings
Kaplan: If there's one thing I feel confident about, it's that the Oilers-Blackhawks series is going to include a boat load of offense. Neither team feels great about its goaltending situation, and both teams can keep up in wide-open affairs. While either Connor McDavid (10-1) or Leon Draisaitl (+1150) is a safer play here -- and both are especially attractive if Corey Crawford misses any time -- I like Kane to score the most points. The 31-year-old has gone on some dominant stretches over the past two seasons and tends to lift up his teammates in high-stakes moments like this.