On August 1, the National Hockey League will return to playing games in Toronto and Edmonton. The top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the fifth through twelfth place teams will be battling to get into the playoffs altogether. Those series are known as the Qualifying Round. The New Jersey Devils were worse than that at the time of the NHL Pause back in March. Therefore, they will not be returning to play. They did not even qualify for the Qualifying Round. While the New Jersey Devils are not involved in these games, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to them all beyond just having any kind of professional hockey in North America (and literally being on all day for at least four days). Since there are eight weekdays until the start of the Qualifying Round and there are eight series, I will be giving you a Devils fan-centric rooting guide for each one.
We will start this series with the one that will begin the Western Conference contests on August 1. It is the Edmonton Oilers led by the current power duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl against the Chicago Blackhawks, led by the still power duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Read on to learn more about this one and the indirect stakes at hand.
The Series Information
What you need to know about the series in general.
The Records: The Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 58.5% Point%, 5th in West) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 51.4% Point%, 12th in West)
The Pre-Pause Season Series: The Blackhawks beat the Oilers two times out of three. I think the fourth game may have been lost in the pause, but the home team prevailed in each game. Links go to the Gamecenter page at NHL.com:
Game 1: October 14. 2019 - Blackhawks 3, Oilers 1 in Chicago
Game 2: February 11, 2020 - Oilers 5, Blackhawks 3 in Edmonton
Game 3: March, 5, 2020 - Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 in Chicago
The first game featured Chicago’s first win of the season and Edmonton’s first loss. The second game featured Edmonton’s first win without McDavid thanks to Draisaitl putting up one goal and three assists. Two of those three helped Kailer Yamamoto score twice in that one. While Draisaitl and Yamamoto found the scoresheet in the third game, Alex DeBrincat was the star with two goals and the one that Edmonton would not answer.
The Broadcast Schedule: From NHL.com:
Game 1: Blackhawks versus Oilers, August 1, 3 PM ET - NBC, SN
Game 2: Blackhawks versus Oilers, August 3, 10:30 PM ET - NBCSN, SN
Game 3: Oilers versus Blackhawks, August 5, 10:30 PM ET - NBCSN, SN
Game 4: Oilers versus Blackhawks, August 7, TBD
Game 5: Blackhawks versus Oilers, August 8, TBD
Games 4 and 5 may not be necessary as it is a best-of-five series. If they become needed, timing and broadcast information will be determined later. As per the NHL’s announcement, the home team is the second team listed. So Edmonton will get the last change in Games 1, 2, and 5. Fun fact: All those wanting McDavid and Draisaitl to be on a national television stage in America will get what they want on August 1. It will be on NBC. Not NBC SN. NBC. The main home of the Peacock Network. NBC.
A Quick Analysis: This might as well be the Believe It or Not Series.
Believe It or Not, but Chicago has had impressive goaltending in 5-on-5 situations this season. They can boast the eighth best team save percentage in 5-on-5 hockey with a 92.51% save percentage. And it is not just because they had Robin Lehner. Corey Crawford put up a stunning 92.6% save percentage per Natural Stat Trick. If he can return from the long layoff and return to this form, Chicago may have a larger chance in this series.
Believe It or Not, but both teams have been rather poor in 5-on-5 hockey as a team. Check the team stats at Natural Stat Trick. Edmonton has a team CF% below 48%, an expected GF% of 48.5%, and they have been outscored by 16 in 5-on-5 hockey. Chicago is not that much better. While they are even in goals for and against in 5-on-5, a 48.45% CF% and a 46.93% expected GF% impresses nobody. The series could very well come down to who can get their acts together in the run of play.
Believe It or Not, but Edmonton has had the most success on the power play prior to the NHL Pause. Per NHL.com, their conversion rate of 29.5% led the league and was 4.3% better than second-best Boston. Edmonton led the NHL with 59 power play goals as well. The Oilers’ aces, Draisaitl and McDavid have put up 44 and 43 power play points in the season to be #1 and #2 in the NHL in that stat. If there is a flaw, then it is in what the opposition can do to them. The Oilers also finished tied for third (with the Devils, sadly) in shorthanded goals with ten. What if the Oilers are killing a penalty instead? I would not worry; their penalty kill success rate of 84.4% was the second best in the NHL. I would expect the Oilers to thrive on special teams.
Believe It or Not, but Chicago’s power play has been relatively poor. Their team success rate of 15.2% is the 28th best in the NHL and they have only scored 33 goals while allowing eight. That is hardly threatening at a macro level. One would think a situation where Kane, Toews, DeBrincat, and Brandon Saad would have extra space would help them. It has not been the case in 2019-20. On the flipside, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been quite successful with an 82.1% success rate. That puts them in a three-way tie for the eighth best percentage. However, that was helped by Lehner’s amazing 92% save percentage in shorthanded situations. He is not with Chicago now. Crawford posted a not-impressive 85.2% in those situations and Malcolm Subban is an unknown. If there is one power play that is going to really test Chicago, then its going to be the one iced by the Oilers.
In total, there are a lot more ‘if’s in my mind for Chicago. If they can quell McDavid and Draisaitl. If their depth can win their matchups against Edmonton’s depth. If their veterans - Duncan Keith included - can step up big time. If Crawford is good to go and returns to his form from earlier this season. If they can stay out of the box and kill calls like a boss. If Edmonton just stumbles out of the gate in the series. Then maybe Chicago has a chance. However, that’s a lot of ifs. I do not think it will happen.
If it does, expect the saltiest takes coming from Edmonton fans all around the world.
The Stakes at Hand for the Devils
We know these two teams are playing for a playoff spot. But what is in it for the Devils?
Believe it or not, but there is a stake at hand from this series. This series cannot impact the Devils’ first rounder, but it can impact Arizona’s first round draft pick. The Devils will get that pick provided that Arizona does not win the second NHL Draft Lottery. Here are the possibilities.
If Edmonton wins this series, then Chicago will be in the lottery. If they win that, then Arizona’s pick would move up to tenth overall.
The other possibility is a longer shot, but it is still a possibility. First, assume Arizona loses their series. Second, if Chicago beats Edmonton, then they are in the playoffs and so Arizona’s pick would move up to tenth overall by default. Third, if Montreal also wins their series as well, then Arizona’s pick would move up to ninth overall. Fourth, if Arizona does not win the second draft lottery, then the Devils would get Arizona’s first round pick. Moving up two spots in this range of the 2020 NHL Draft can be pretty major depending who is on the board. Getting all four things to occur is not likely, but it would represent part of the best case scenario for the Devils with respect to the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Second NHL Draft Lottery Possibilities
We know that Alexis Lafreniere will be the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. That pick is owned by one of the eight losing teams from this Qualifying Round. So there will be a second lottery to determine it. How should we react if the loser of this series wins this one?
If the Blackhawks win the Second Draft Lottery: I think people would not mind this one. Chicago is definitely on a decline. They enter this Return to Play format as the worst team in the West. With a salary cap anchored by their stars, a serious rebuild may be on the horizon. Alexis Lafreniere would dull that potential pain. He could be part of a newer core on the Blackhawks, featuring Alex DeBrincat, Adam Boqvist, Alexander Nylander, Dominik Kubalik, and Kirby Dach. Since Chicago is also in the West, the impact of Lafreniere going to them is minimal for the Devils.
If the Oilers win the Second Draft Lottery: Groans will be made across the hockey world as Edmonton gets another first overall selection. And Lafreniere would definitely be a fine consolation prize to soothe the bitter tears that are likely to be wept if Edmonton is beaten by Chicago. A Lafreniere-McDavid-Draisaitl line would do that. As would a potential combination with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto. As you may grumble about Edmonton striking lucky for being the fifth best team in the West and getting the top prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft class, his presence in Alberta would not really harm the Devils’ cause for improvement.
Pending Free Agents to Look For
The Devils have a lot of cap space, a full-time GM, and a new head coach. Maybe they will spend in free agency this Fall. These games could be a real showcase for those looking to hit the market. These are some of the more notable potential unrestricted free agents in this series.
The Blackhawks: Chicago has one pending UFA on their roster at CapFriendly and it is definitely a notable one. It is the goaltender, Corey Crawford. His six-season, $36 million contract is ending after this season. Given how little cap space Chicago has available for next season, I doubt he is going to take a massive pay cut to stay. Crawford is also going to turn 36 at the end of the calendar year. That would be another factor if Chicago chooses to let him walk. The Devils certainly could use a backup or a #1A option to support Mackenzie Blackwood in the short term. However, as well as Crawford played this season, I do not think he would be the best option. Who knows how Father Time will treat him in 2020-21 and how much he would want to come to New Jersey. Still, he’s the UFA to watch by default. Even that may not happen. He has been “unfit to participate” in training camp and the team is hoping he makes it to Edmonton.
Chicago’s roster may be worth looking at for a trade as they have some cap issues staring at them in the face. Their list of pending RFAs include Kubalik, who had a great rookie season; Drage Caggiula, Dylan Strome, Malcolm Subban and Slater Koekkoek. The Blackhawks have just over $7.3 million in cap space for next season per CapFriendly. It is going to be tight to retain all of them with just that much money. Then you have to consider that they may also need to replace Crawford in net. That is another contract. GM Stan Bowman may be feeling the cap crunch. Tom Fitzgerald could possibly offer him some relief.
The Oilers: The Oilers do not have a lot of impressive names pending unrestricted free agents. They do have a lot of names, though. 38-year goaltender Mike Smith is a pending UFA. 34-year old Mike Green, who opted out of this tourney, is a pending UFA. Riley Sheahan, Tyler Ennis, and Patrick Russell are all pending UFAs. Then there are the two contracts they buried in the AHL this season: Brandon Manning and Markus Granlund. Out of all of these, the one I think would warrant some consideration is Tyler Ennis. The 30-year old could play any forward position, he is likely to come cheap, and he was not entirely horrid with Ottawa this season. He could be a good fill-in option for the Devils forward roster without commanding big minutes away from developing players. It is not an enticing option, but it is better than all of these other players.
Edmonton’s cap situation is not as dire as Chicago’s. Sure, they have quite a few roster spots opening up. They only have Andreas Athanasiou as the team’s main pending RFA and $10.1 million of cap space slated for next season. They could give him a solid contract and spread the rest around among cheap players for depth.
My Choice & Your Turn
While the Devils could potentially benefit from a Chicago win, I do see Edmonton taking this one. McDavid and Draisaitl are a total offensive force. They have one of, if not, the league’s best power plays in the league. As poor as they have been in 5-on-5, I have more faith in a blueline led by Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Adam Larsson than one led by Duncan Keith, Olli Maatta, and Connor Murphy. Crawford needs to A) play and B) be really good right away for Chicago to have a chance. I hope A happens. But B could still happen and Edmonton would find ways to light him up because they can. And I have alluded to it but as much as the pressure is more on Edmonton is to win, I do not think they accidentally ended up fifth in the West this season. I think they are on the rise. Their window for success is now with McDavid at 23 years old, Draisaitl at 24, Nurse at 25, Klefbom at 27, and Yamamoto at 21. As Chicago’s greatness from last decade is fading, the Oilers were turning a corner this season. I do not think their players will want to let this slip and sink back to the old times of Oilers hockey. Their pressure is more of an incentive, in my view. Adding that to everything else I think about this series, I think Edmonton will win it.
However, that is how I see this matchup. I want to know what the People Who Matter think of this series; I want to know what you expect and hope for in this series. Please leave a comment as to how you see this series going down, who you would want to win and why, and who interests you within this series. Also, please vote in the poll just to answer who you think will win this series. Tomorrow, I will provide a rooting guide for the third series to start on August 1: Florida and the New York Islanders. Thank you for reading.
Who will win between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks in this best of five series?
This poll is closed