As the return of sports crawls closer and closer each day, it’s important to pay attention to how the sports are returning as much as when they return. Traditionally 16 NHL franchises have made the playoffs but with this year’s unnatural format, 24 teams will attempt to take home Lord Stanley with the top four teams of each conference gathering a first-round bye.

The odds to win the Stanley Cup now show a massive gap between the top-four teams in each conference – who will receive byes to the Round of 16 in the new 24-team playoff format. The format is simple – the top four teams get their byes as the rest of the teams compete based off of current records in the NHL.

The West

In the Western Conference the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars all claimed the top spots with the Blues (42-19-10 .662) entering the playoffs with the conference’s best record. Having a bye in the first rounds seems to be a pretty large advantage due to practice time and the ability to watch your next opponent in a series.

The East

The Eastern Conference is led by the Boston Bruins naturally with a 44-14-12 record. The East looks stacked as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes have better records than the Dallas Stars who received a bye in the West, but naturally, that would only apply to a playoff scenario where the East and the West conferences do not matter.

If any of you were a part of my initial NHL talks at the beginning of the season, I strongly picked the Anaheim Ducks as my deep, deep, deep sleeper team. With a heavy heart and an ability to say when I’m wrong, it’s with pure sadness I write that they are NOT in the NFL playoffs this year. Welp.

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Although I do believe the Pittsburgh Penguins have a real shot at a title here, it just seems too damning to not select one of the bye teams. That bye round is more crucial than some fans might understand, making me want to select the Colorado Avalanche as your next Stanley Cup Champions…barring a magical run from our Pittsburgh Penguins of course.