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2020 NHL playoffs: Could this year’s format allow Canada to take home the Stanley Cup?

Maple Leafs - Canadiens
Credit: Toronto Maple Leafs

The last Canadian NHL team to win the Stanley Cup did so back in 1993.

Many of the players who will be suiting up inside the NHL’s version of a bubble when the playoffs start in August weren’t even born when the Montreal Canadiens got the job done 27 years ago.

But, could those players get a first-hand look at a potentially historic playoff run inside the bubble housing the league’s playoff teams in 2020? If there was ever a year for it to happen, this might be it.

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Out of the 24 squads taking over the league’s new campuses in both Edmonton and Toronto, Canada has a 25-percent representation. None of them are in either of the round robins set up to determine each conference’s top four seeds, but both conferences have at least two Canadian teams in their respective groupings.

Canada’s highest seed, the fifth-seeded Edmonton Oilers, will take on the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, with the seventh-seeded Vancouver Canucks battling the 10th-seeded Minnesota Wild.

Each conference has a Canadian franchise locked in as the eighth seed, with the Toronto Maple Leafs squaring off with the ninth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference, and an inter-country matchup between the eighth-seeded Calgary Flames and ninth-seeded Winnipeg Jets out in the Western Conference.

The only team punching upwards in their series is the last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup: the Montreal Canadiens. As the 12th seed in the Eastern Conference, they’ll face the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won the Cup three times since the Canadiens last pulled it off.

Yes, the NHL’s Canadian franchises are still in the minority this summer as far as the league’s playoff pool is concerned, but it’s better than what the country has seen in recent years.

In 2019, three Canadian teams (Maple Leafs, Flames and Jets) took up just three of the 16 playoff spots in the postseason bracket. In 2018, that number was just two (Maple Leafs and Jets).

The league had a 25-percent representation in the playoffs in 2017, and even had the Ottawa Senators one game away from the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, the Senators lost a double-overtime heartbreaker in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup champion.

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So, with so many options to choose from and such a unique playoff format, could this be the year that the NHL’s Canadian teams finally break through and take the Stanley Cup back up north?

Depending on the amount of playoff teams moving forward, Canada will likely never have this many teams in the postseason at the same time again. The NHL only has seven Canadian franchises, and six out of seven is a large sample size at this point in the league’s history.

The country is guaranteed to have at least one team in the next round of the postseason after the Stanley Cup qualifiers, and if seedings hold, they’ll have five teams in that second round.

Add in the fact that the entire league is coming off of what will be almost five months away from the time the regular season was postponed in March, and this year’s bracket could be any team’s to win.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs always have teams that manage to pull off Cinderella runs to conference finals or the Stanley Cup Final itself, and that’s after a full regular season and a limited break before the postseason’s beginning. With some of the league’s best players now forced to get rid of some rust in a playoff setting, it could lead to some major upsets in any round.

At the same time, however, there is an incredible amount of talent at the top of each conference, and each of those teams will be playing against each other right off the bat in round robins when the season resumes.

While teams like the Penguins battle a low seed like the Canadiens, other squads like the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning will get to hone their skills against fellow top-tier competition. They’ll have to get the rust off like every other team, but they’ll get to do so at the highest level possible as it relates to the league’s seeds for these playoffs.

>>RELATED: Why the Bruins could be the team to break a historic trend after their Game 7 loss in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

Speaking of seeding, the six Canadian teams competing for the Stanley Cup this summer don’t have ideal positions in the playoff bracket, and will either wind up playing against each other or against high-level teams in the later rounds when teams are back in a rhythm. While seeds won’t matter as much this year with no home teams and no travel to deal with, the talent levels themselves will be big things to think about.

All in all, even with the frequency of Canadian teams in the NHL’s bubble this year, the league’s brackets seem to be a bit top-heavy in each conference. A Bruins-Blues rematch in the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t seem too far-fetched, and those six Canadian playoff qualifiers could be left watching two American teams celebrate a Stanley Cup victory in Canada when all is said and done.

But, with so many factors at play after such a long, pandemic-related postponement, don’t be surprised if history is made and a Canadian franchise manages to bring the Stanley Cup back home in 2020.

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