How NHL’s return to play plan impacts Stanley Cup odds

Canadian-based NHL teams were the big winners when Gary Bettman unveiled the league’s return-to-play plans on Tuesday. With the NHL regular season now officially over and the league moving forward with plans to include 24 teams in the playoffs, the NHL postseason will feature six Canadian-based NHL teams for the first time since 1993.

And among those clubs, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers sport the best Stanley Cup odds, deadlocked at +1800 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Tuesday’s announcement was the best news hockey fans have heard since the NHL suspended play on March 12 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, just four Canadian teams occupied playoff spots, but with the expanded format both the Vancouver Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens will now see postseason action.

Under the Return to Play plans, the top four teams in each conference will play a round robin to determine playoff seeding, while the remaining eight teams in each conference will face off in play-in series with the winners moving on to a more familiar 16-team playoff format.

With seeding for the play-in round based on points percentage, the Maple Leafs are pegged as the No. 8 seed, and will battle the No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets (+6600), while the Oilers will take on the No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks (+6600) as the No. 5 seed after narrowly missing out on a spot in the Western Conference round robin.

The move to seed teams based on points percentage has been a bonus for the Canucks, who sat just outside the wild card picture when the season halted. Now sporting +3000 Stanley Cup odds at online sports betting sites, Vancouver faces Minnesota (+5000) as the seven-seed.

Conversely, the Winnipeg Jets (+5500) tumble from the top wild card in the West to the No. 9 seed as they prepare for an all-Canadian first-round matchup with No. 8 Calgary. The Flames have dipped to +3500 on the Stanley Cup betting lines since peaking in mid-January at +2000, and have failed to win a series since their last trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

The Canadiens face a tough road as the bottom seed in the East, setting the stage for a matchup with the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins (+1200). Losers of eight straight on two occasions earlier this season, the Canadiens now sit as +8000 longshots on the NHL futures.

A tight race has developed at the top of the Stanley Cup odds. The league-leading Boston Bruins join the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning as +700 Stanley Cup favourites, just ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights and Philadelphia Flyers at +800 on those NHL odds, with the defending champion St. Louis Blues sitting back at +1100.

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