The NHL's 24-team tournament this summer promises to be one of the most unpredictable -- if not fascinating -- postseasons for hockey ever.
The paused season due to the coronavirus pandemic provided significant extra time for injured stars to mend, and there are a number of intriguing lineup decisions that could have an outsized impact, given the shorter length of the qualification-round series.
With teams scheduled to start training camps on Monday (pending NHLPA approval on the protocols), we identified 10 X factors that could determine who hoists the Stanley Cup in October.
1. The Chicago Blackhawks' back end
Since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks have allowed 505 goals. Only the Red Wings and Senators have allowed more. Chicago's blue line has been a sore spot, and we don't know what we're going to get in August, when they face the mighty Oilers' offense. A year ago, the Blackhawks traded for Calvin de Haan from the Carolina Hurricanes looking to shore up the back end, but the former Islanders first-rounder played just 29 games with Chicago. In December, De Haan underwent shoulder surgery and was supposed to be out four to six months.
"Here we are, and it's been over six months," GM Stan Bowman told me recently. "He was supposed to be out for the year, and now he's someone we expect to play. Calvin was playing pretty well right before he got injured, and our team was playing well then, so I think it's going to be a nice benefit."
Another wild card for Chicago: Brent Seabrook is trying to come back as well. "He had multiple surgeries -- two hips and a shoulder done over a five-, six-week period," Bowman said. "We'll have to see where he's at. He's going to be close, but he went through a lot, so we're not sure. He's not ruled out, but he's probably more questionable."
Oh, and one last (albeit huge) factor for Chicago? The Blackhawks traded Robin Lehner at the trade deadline for Malcolm Subban, but Subban didn't get any starts in Chicago before the season was paused. As a result, coach Jeremy Colliton will likely be riding Corey Crawford throughout, hoping the veteran stays healthy.