We're still at least two months away from meaningful NHL games being played -- the NHL said last week that-- but we do have somewhat of an idea of what things will look like if/when the the league finally does return to the ice.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has already declared the regular season over and said that the league will jump right into the postseason when it returns. He has, one that will include 16 teams across two conferences participating in a play-in round.
The matchups for this best-of-five play-in round are already set, so let's take an early look at those matchups and examine how things break down based on what we know at the pause.
First up: The Eastern Conference. We'll take a look at offense, defense, special teams and goaltending before declaring which team holds the advantage in each category and, finally, making a prediction for the series.
Offense: The Penguins' group up front is led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (you've probably heard of them), plus ancillary pieces like Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist. They'll also likely get Jake Guentzel back from the presumed season-ending shoulder surgery he underwent in December -- something that could make the Pens beneficiaries from this layoff. The offense was ranked 10th at the break, a pretty strong accomplishment considering the plethora of key injuries they suffered throughout the season. With everyone rested and healed up, they should have a leg up on a Canadiens team that ranked 19th in offense. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Defense: Pittsburgh's defense fell apart last season and it was a big reason why they were bounced in the first round by the Islanders, but this year's team has held it together a bit more on the back end. The Pens rank 12th in goals allowed per game and give up the 6th-fewest shots per game. Meanwhile, Montreal ranks 19th in goals allowed and and 13th in shots allowed. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Special teams: Neither team has been particularly great on the man-advantage this season, with the Penguins ranking 16th in the league in power play efficiency and the Canadiens ranking 22nd. The ceiling is higher for the Penguins giving their elite playmakers and finishers up front. Pittsburgh also ranks higher in penalty killing, finishing 10th while Montreal is 19th. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Goaltending: Performance in net has been a relative weak spot for both teams this year. Matt Murray was a mess for Pittsburgh before losing his starting job to Tristan Jarry, who has helped mitigate the damage since taking over. In 33 appearances, Jarry has a save percentage of .921 with a Goals Saved Above Average mark of plus-11.07. Collectively, Murray and Jarry have a .904 save percentage, ranking 15th in the league. Over on the other side, Carey Price is one of the most high-profile goalies in the league but he hasn't really lived up to his reputation for a few years. This year, he's got a save percentage of just .909 and has looked far from spectacular with a Goals Saved Above Average mark of minus-1.31. If Price can come back from the layoff and suddenly rediscover top form, it could be a difference-maker for Montreal -- especially in a five-game playoff series. But based off what we've seen this year, the Penguins have an edge assuming Jarry goes. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Prediction: Penguins in 3
No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers
Offense: The Rangers hold an edge by the numbers -- they rank 5th in goals per game while Carolina ranks 11th. However, the majority of the Rangers' offensive production runs through just a few players, namely Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Their production has been incredible and a goal is a goal no matter who it comes from, but Carolina has a more balanced offensive attack and is capable of generating good chances throughout the lineup and that depth can be crucial over the course of a series. Advantage: Push
Defense: Carolina has one of the strongest two-way blue lines in the league and is particularly good at shot suppression and moving the puck. They rank 11th in goals allowed per game and 2nd in shots allowed. That defensive unit could also see the return of Dougie Hamilton, who was one of the league's best defensemen and a leading Norris candidate before breaking his leg in January. New York is significantly weaker on the defensive end with a relatively young group that ranks 23rd in goals allowed per game and 30th in shots allowed. Advantage: Carolina
Special teams: The power play numbers are very close between these two squads. New York held a slight edge at the pause, ranking 7th with a conversion rate of 22.9%. The Hurricanes are right behind them, ranking 8th at 22.3%. The discrepancy in special teams lies in the penalty kill. Carolina ranks 4th with an 84% kill rate, while the Rangers are 23rd with a kill rate of 77.4%. Advantage: Carolina
Goaltending: Goaltending is Carolina's perceived Achilles' Heel. Petr Mrazek has had a mediocre year and posted a sub-.900 save percentage during the Canes' run to the Eastern Conference Final last postseason, so it's fair to doubt what they'll get between the pipes. James Reimer has put up solid numbers in the backup role but the last time he consistently started postseason games was 2013. It remains up in the air who the Rangers will start in net once the postseason begins. They've had a committee this year, giving run to Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev and rookie Igor Shesterkin. Lundqvist has strong career playoff numbers but hasn't seen a postseason start since 2017. Shesterkin has the best numbers (but the smallest sample size) of the three, posting a 10-2 record with a save percentage of .932 in 12 starts. Will the Rangers go with Lundqvist's experience, Georgiev's larger/more impressive sample or show faith in their goaltender of the future with Shesterkin? It doesn't really matter, because all three of their goalies might be better options that what's on the other end. Advantage: New York
Prediction: Hurricanes in 5
Offense: The Islanders play a defensive system and offensive production has been a weak spot for them over the past few years. Their success has hinged on scoring just enough to squeak by teams and they'll rarely put on an explosive show, ranking 22nd in goals per game and 28th in shots per game. That being said, they're capable of generating High Danger chances (tied for 3rd in NHL) and have a handful of solid, reliable two-way forwards that can produce. Florida, on the other hand, is a strong offensive team capable of putting goals on the board in bunches. They have a strong group up front led by key pillars in Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov and they rank 6th in total offense, 7th in shots. Advantage: Florida
Defense: Again, Barry Trotz and the Isles employ a defensive system that focuses on shutting down the opponent's top talent and keeping pucks out of their own net. Defense is the calling card and they rank 9th in the NHL in goals allowed. The Isles could also have a key member of their blue line, Adam Pelech, return from a torn Achilles that was presumed to end his season. The Panthers rank tied for 28th in the league in goals allowed per game and -- while goaltending has been an issue in Florida -- so too has the defensive play in front of the net. They frequently break down and allow too many odd-man rushes and uncontested looks at the net, so the Isles should have opportunities in this series. Advantage: New York
Special teams: To little surprise, Florida has the power play advantage here, ranking 10th to the Isles' 24th. There's probably less of a gap than you'd think on the penalty kill, as New York ranks 15th (80.7%) and Florida ranks 20th (78.5%). Advantage: Florida
Goaltending: The Panthers invested a ton of money in Sergei Bobrovsky last offseason in hopes that he'd finally give them a steady, reliable stopper in between the pipes. The two-time Vezina winner has been a major disappointment in his first season in Florida, posting a .900 save percentage with a Goals Saved Above Average mark of minus-14.91 in 50 games. On New York's side, their goaltending has taken a bit of a dip since finishing with the league's best duo between the pipes last season. Still, this year's tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss rank 8th in collective save percentage (.911). You can argue Bobrovsky has a higher ceiling at his best, but given what we've seen this year and what's in front of these goaltenders, it's hard to side with Florida. Advantage: New York
Prediction: Islanders in 4
No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets
Offense: The Maple Leafs have one of the league's most potent and explosive offensive units, led by stars in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Toronto's attack ranks 3rd in the league in goals per game and 6th in shots per game. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are tied for 27th in the league in offense despite ranking 8th in shots per game. They'll get some key forwards back from injury once the season resumes, but they only have one forward who has hit the 20-goal mark this season (Oliver Bjorkstrand) and they have the 4th lowest shooting percentage in the league. Advantage: Toronto
Defense: The Maple Leafs' play in their own end continues to be an issue, as it has been for the last several years. They've got a good amount of individual talent on the blue line but, as a unit, they rank 26th in the league in goals allowed per game and 19th in shots allowed per game. As for Columbus, they have done a good job limited opponents this year, ranking 3rd in the league in goals allowed per game and 7th in shots allowed. John Tortorella employs a hard-nosed, grind-it-out system that looks to suffocate opposing teams and suppress scoring opportunities. Columbus should also get a huge boost from the return of Seth Jones, who is one of the best young defensemen in the game today. Advantage: Columbus
Special teams: Again, Toronto has elite scoring talent up front and some nice weapons on the blue line as well, so their power play unit is a dangerous one. The Maple Leafs rank 6th in power play conversion (22.9%) while the Blue Jackets have one of the worst man-advantage rates in the league, ranking 27th (16.4%). Advantage: Toronto
Goaltending: Frederik Andersen has had a rough season in Toronto, posting a career-worst .909 save percentage in 52 games this season. He's a capable netminder and this year's struggles aren't completely his fault given what's in front of him, but the Leafs will need more if they're to make a serious run. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets lost their franchise goaltender (Bobrovsky) last offseason but they haven't particularly missed him. Elvis Merzlikins has emerged as a breakout star, recording a .923 save percentage and saving 12.10 Goals Saved Above Average in 33 games in his rookie campaign. It's a limited sample we don't know how that momentum will carry over after the break, but last year's St. Louis Blues reminded us not to underestimate 25-year-old rookie goaltenders who emerged mid-season. Advantage: Columbus
Prediction: Blue Jackets in 5