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NHL qualifying series Watchability Index

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When hockey returns there will be plenty for fans to watch, but some will be better than others.

NHL: FEB 14 Canadiens at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When and if the NHL can return this summer, it will do so immediately with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Given how the season came to an abrupt halt back in March, the league had to adapt its playoff format to provide fairness to teams right on the playoff bubble.

What this led to was a 24 team playoff tournament that will begin with eight qualifying series featuring teams ranked five through 12 in both conferences. The qualifying series will be best-of-five with the winning side moving on to face an opponent from their respective conferences top four finishers.

Of the eight qualifying series scheduled to be played, some matchups jump right off the page and will be must watch hockey, while others leave much to be desired for fans with no horse in the race.

Let’s take a look at how each series rates in terms of watchability and determine which ones you should tune in for and which ones can be used for background noise by the pool.

Eastern Conference

With the season entering the home stretch, the Eastern Conference playoff chase was taking shape nicely. Each division had its top three teams all but locked in with the real battle being for the two wildcard spots. It was mainly a three team race between the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and New York Islanders.

Given how close those three teams were in the wild card battle, the NHL couldn’t hold a playoffs and leave one team at home. That led to the eventual expanded playoff format which threw a lifeline to not only those three, but also the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens.

Penguins vs. Canadiens

If this was being written just for Penguins fans, then this series probably gets a nine or ten rating just because it’s the Penguins. However, this list takes into consideration the entertainment value for all NHL fans, and even though these are two marquee franchises, the talent disparity is too great to ignore.

Sure the Canadiens have some recognizable faces and anything can happen in a best-of-five series, but the Penguins will be heavy favorites heading into competition and should be aided by the return of Jake Guentzel. On paper, this is just not an attractive series when put up against the others.

Watchability Index: 5/10

Hurricanes vs. Rangers

Of the 31 teams in the NHL, only two voted against the return to play plan put forth by the league. One of those teams was the Carolina Hurricanes and you can understand why when you see their situation. Prior to the shutdown, the Hurricanes were in the best position of the three wild card chasing sides to make the playoffs, but now, they will need to win a best-of-five series against a Rangers team who beat them four times this season.

There is a lot of good, young talent on both sides of the ice here and this matchup should produce a lot of fast and exciting hockey. There are questions in goal for both teams and this could be the final chapter for Henrik Lundqvist in New York. What a story if would be if he stepped up to the plate one final time.

Watchability Index: 9/10

Islanders vs. Panthers

Two of the best head coaches in the NHL lead will their sides into a best-of-five showdown when play resumes. Barry Trotz and Joel Quenneville are both masters of their trade, but this will be decided on the ice between their players. Both sides boast some exciting young talent but it will be up to the Panthers offense to find a way past the Islanders tight blue line.

When the season paused both of these teams were outside the playoff picture. Now, they get a chance to prove they belong.

Watchability Index: 8/10

Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Much like the Penguins, the Blue Jackets were decimated by injuries this season and it had them on the brink of missing the playoffs. Luckily, the NHL’s return to play scenario gives them a boost and the right to prove they belong. It remains to be seen just how healthy they will be when hockey resumes, but this is certainly a second life for Columbus.

As for the Maple Leafs, they struggled early in the season before firing Mike Babcock and hiring Sheldon O’Keefe as head coach. The slow start put them behind the eight ball and were only three points ahead of the Panthers when the season went on hold and the Panthers had a game in hand. They’re breathing a sigh of relief to be where they are right now.

Watchability Index: 7/10

Poll

Which Eastern Conference qualifying series are you most looking forward to?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Penguins/Canadiens
    (479 votes)
  • 17%
    Hurricanes/Rangers
    (121 votes)
  • 2%
    Islanders/Panthers
    (14 votes)
  • 11%
    Maple Leafs/Blue Jackets
    (80 votes)
694 votes total Vote Now

Western Conference

Out west, the top seeds for each division were not quite as defined as the east when the season went on pause but was slowly starting to take shape. All eight of the Western Conference teams taking part in the qualifying round were within eight points of one another when the hiatus went into effect.

This 24-team playoff plan worked out splendidly for these teams in the west given how tight the whole group was entering the last 10 or so games of the season. Hopefully this provides some entertaining hockey even if none of these are Stanley Cup favorites.

Oilers vs. Blackhawks

Just bring on all the offense you think the fans can handle, please. Neither of these teams cares too much about defense and the Blackhawks traded away their best goalie at the deadline. Tons of star power will be on the ice, including (likely) three Hart Trophies winners combined between the two sides.

Edmonton is facing a Hurricanes-like situation here themselves, securely in a playoff spot before the shutdown but now forced into a best-of-five qualifying series. Chicago is the lowest team on the totem pole in the Western Conference but their past pedigree makes them a formidable opponent.

Watchability Index: 8/10

Predators vs. Coyotes

Nashville was right on the playoff bubble with 11 games left on their schedule, locked in a virtual tie for the final wild card spot with the Vancouver Canucks. It was an up-and-down year for the Predators, that featured them firing head coach Peter Laviolette in early January. They have Norris Trophy candidate Roman Josi patrolling the blue line, but this team is a far cry from the Stanley Cup runner-up side in 2017.

This series gets an automatic boost since the Coyotes announced they will wear their Kachina jerseys for any designated home games. If you need any rooting interest in this series maybe that will help you pick a side. This series will also feature former Penguin Phil Kessel and assistant coach Rick Tocchet.

Watchability Index: 6/10

Canucks vs. Wild

A matchup of franchises heading in polar opposite directions. We are perhaps a year or two away from the Canucks being true contenders, but when those young guns are firing, they are one of the funnest teams to watch. Maybe someone can talk them into wearing their flawless throwbacks anytime they play as well.

As for the Wild, they seem to be destined for a rebuild but will have a Stanley Cup shot thanks to this format. Minnesota was right in the mix for a wild card spot but were sitting in fifth place in the uber competitive Central division. If they can’t keep up with the Canucks speed they might not be long for this journey.

Watchability Index: 7/10

Flames vs. Jets

I’m not sure what the level of animosity is between these two teams, but this is Canada’s only guarantee for getting a team into the next round so hopefully that can help breed some hatred. Plus this series will feature Matthew Tkachuk so surely something wild is bound to happen at some point.

Loads of talent between these two teams who were both on the playoff path before the stoppage hit. It could very well come down to whether or not Connor Hellebuyck can continue up his Vezina Trophy play that helped keep the Jets afloat all season. If not, the Flames offense may turn out to just be too much to handle.

Watchability Index: 8/10

Poll

Which Western Conference qualifying series are you most looking forward to?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Oilers/Blackhawks
    (227 votes)
  • 12%
    Predators/Coyotes
    (65 votes)
  • 7%
    Canucks/Wild
    (37 votes)
  • 37%
    Flames/Jets
    (198 votes)
527 votes total Vote Now