With the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoff matchups set now, we know the roads that teams will have to take to get through the playoffs. We can also start to see which teams have the combination of a (relatively) easy path and the right tools to make a run. We can use these to find NHL playoff picks that make sense.
NHL longshots have used a formula for making deep runs, as laid out here. Trying to piece together who can make a run is a challenge, but we have some clues. Given the road, the odds and the traits needed, look at the prices for the following teams and see if you agree they have some value.
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Traits To Look For In NHL Playoff Picks (And Which Teams Fit)
Here are the traits to look for when trying to find sleepers in the NHL playoffs. Later, you can see the best prices on these teams to win the Stanley Cup.
Igor Shesterkin in New York is the best goaltender in the league. The league leader in save% and the likely Vezina winner, he makes the Rangers viable in every series. If he can keep up his elite .935 save%, the hot-and-cold nature of the Rangers offense may prove much less problematic.
Nashville looks like a bit of an odd case. Juuse Saros rates as a top-10 goalie in the league by both save% and shutouts. But his availability for Game 1 of the playoffs looks in doubt due to a lower-body injury. When he is on, Saros has the ability to steal games (four shutouts). Nashville has made miracle runs in the playoffs on decent rosters and elite goaltending, including one to the Cup as the last wild card. If Saros can go, he has series-stealing upside for the Preds.
The Boston Bruins come to mind first when you thinking about “playoff hockey.” We have seen referees swallow the whistle when the chips are down. Behind more physical stars in Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, along with Bruce Cassidy’s gritty, tough coaching style, the Bruins have won rounds in four straight seasons. They even made the Cup Finals in 2019. They rank third in the league in hits once again.
The Predators lead the league in hits, and their physical brand of hockey will suit the playoffs. A mediocre penalty kill (18th) has hurt them. But, that may prove less penal if they accrue fewer penalties due to more lenient refereeing.
Teams Getting Healthy
Boston hasn’t endured a debilitating injury this season. But Marchand, Bergeron, Matt Grzelcyk, Nick Foligno and David Pasternak have all missed more than a handful of games. All finally look healthy at the same time. With their depth, the Bruins can finally run the idealized version of their lines.
Potential NHL Playoff Sleeper Picks
The Bruins have the playoff experience and play an aggressive brand of hockey that won’t be penalized in the playoffs. They have only gotten 11 games with trade deadline acquisition Hampus Lindholm, who creates a mean top pair with Charlie McAvoy. Getting into the Metropolitan side of the bracket and avoiding Florida, Tampa and Toronto until the Eastern Conference Finals helps hugely as well.
The Predators have the goaltending necessary to contend for a Cup, provided they get a healthy Saros. Their physical, take-no-prisoners style perfectly suits the playoffs. Unfortunately, they did not get a great draw in the West thanks to their late collapse against Arizona. Obviously, if Saros isn’t healthy, then it doesn’t matter. They won’t get past the Avs. If he has gotten healthy and remains so, they’re dangerous.
Obviously, teams like Colorado and Florida could easily just maintain their regular season winning rate and win the Cup. Although, only two No. 1 seeds have won it since the 2004-05 lockout. But if you want to find the longshots with a pulse, Boston and Nashville check multiple boxes.