By: Josh Houreas | Follow Me On Twitter @JHoureas
Traditionally, in the middle of April, the National Hockey Season reaches its conclusion. Sixteen teams prepare to battle for the most coveted trophy in all of sports. The Stanley Cup. While right now, we would most likely be down to the final four teams in the playoffs, with some possible second-round series going the distance, things didn’t turn out that way.
And now, the NHL is scrambling for a solution.
On March 12th, due to COVID-19 concerns, the NHL hit the pause button on what was turning out to be an amazing season flooded with amazing moments. Some of which include David Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver dressing as an emergency goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes going on to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bobby Ryan scoring a hat trick in his first game back from rehabilitation, and Mika Zibenejad scoring five, yes FIVE goals including the overtime winner against the Washington Capitals, just to name a few.
As per @FriedgeHNIC and @reporterchris, the NHL and NHLPA are working on various Stanley Cup Playoff scenarios. Here’s what a 24-team, conference-based setup with a play-in round could potentially look like.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 21, 2020
While the League finds a solution to conclude the season, (which in my personal opinion shouldn’t happen) one scenario is not off the table. A 24 team playoff (and you have to feel for the seven teams who would miss out, well, except Detroit because they are the Baltimore Orioles of the NHL). According to Pro Hockey Talk, who has done an amazing job keeping us informed while were stuck in our houses watching highlights of this season, the modified tournament would consist of the top twelve teams from each conference. Makes sense.
Now here’s where it gets strange. There would be play-in games for the lower half teams. In the east, you would see the New York Islanders take on the Montreal Canadiens, and the New York Rangers would battle with the Florida Panthers. The winners would then take on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, two teams that were fighting for a playoff spot of their own. In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks would take on the Vancouver Canucks, and the Minnesota Wild would take on the Arizona Coyotes. Winners of the Western Conference games would then take on the Winnipeg Jets, and the Nashville Predators. While unjust to the teams involved in this scenario, it is fair as all teams were on the outside looking in when the season was put on pause. Quick side note here, if you’re a fan of any of these teams, don’t complain that your season could come crashing down in one game. How do you think Capitals fans felt for forty-three years?
The difficulty for these “play-in” teams would increase slightly as the winners would play higher-seeded teams in the second round of games. As mentioned above, Winnipeg and Nashville would hold the 7th and 8th seeds, respectively, and Carolina, along with Columbus, would hold the same seeds with Carolina being 7th and Columbus being 8th.
But this surely can’t become the new normal. Can it?
In an article published by the Toronto Sun, this twenty-four team tournament could become the new format of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the near future. This makes the end of the season… well less anticipating to watch as almost everyone would be guaranteed to play for The Stanley Cup. Although, in all honesty, if your favorite team doesn’t make the cut while 77% of the league does (I checked the math and didn’t just pluck that number out of thin air), maybe winning a championship just isn’t for your team. This expanded playoffs would be put into effect for one reason and one reason only.
It’s my understanding NHLPA conference call tonight was spirited if not raucous. While exec committee voting won’t be finalized until Friday, some believe Don Fehr may already have or will get the mandate to accept NHL RTP plan but not overwhelmingly so. https://t.co/bZKaHU79jx
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 22, 2020
Money. Yeah, HUGE surprise there. Owners would be able to capitalize on the profit from ticket sales, merchandise, and potential watch party packages. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the three months of the year where owners make back the money lost in the regular season, and they sure as h-e double hockey sticks aren’t going to want to go back to the 16 team format if they know there is more of a profit involved.
Now the potential format change would not only provide money to the owners of all teams involved in the playoffs, but it would provide amazing moments for fans of at least 24 teams to witness. The Stanley Cup playoffs have provided some of the most memorable moments not only in hockey history but in sports history. Countless memories flood the world of hockey every season, even if those memories don’t involve the teams you cheer for.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman explained to the Toronto Sun that “We’d like to complete this season, we’d like to award the Stanley Cup, the most treasured trophy and the most historic trophy in all of sports. And our fans are telling us overwhelmingly that’s what they’d like us to do because people have an emotional investment in this season already.” Now the only questions that have gone unanswered is how would the set up for this potential playoff work, would series be condensed, and how would home-ice advantage work if series were condensed?
Putting money and memories aside, I personally think that a playoff format that involves as many teams as Canadiens Stanley Cup Wins would work better than the 16 team format. As long as it isn’t Montreal winning the Cup, I can live with this potential format. It would give a chance for the seven teams in Canada to battle for the trophy that had been awarded for the first time over a century ago across frozen ponds throughout their country.
My favorite part of the new NHL postseason proposal is that the Maple Leafs could win their first playoff series in years and then get…the Bruins in what’s technically still the first round
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 21, 2020
Now for your Boston Bruins, this 24 team playoff scenario wouldn’t affect the club right away, as they would be one of the teams who would be marked safe from opening round matchups. At the earliest, Boston would take on the winner of the Toronto Columbus game. If you are wondering who I prefer out of those two teams, it would easily be the Maple Leafs, any day of the week. Not trying to bash Toronto fans here, but Boston has had your team’s number in the playoffs since 2013. Want Proof? Just look at the last three playoff series between the two clubs. Yes, they went the distance, but Boston prevailed every single time, and to that, we Bostonians say thank you.
This is also a PRIME opportunity for prospects playing for Providence to suit up for the Black and Gold. Even though the American Hockey League canceled their season, and will not award a Calder Cup Champion for the first time in league history, twelve players from each team would get called up to their parent clubs in case of injuries sustained by players on NHL rosters. It is currently uncertain as to what players would make the cut for Boston.
At the end of the day, as insane as this sounds, I would actually prefer the NHL to make this playoff format the permanent path to a team winning the Stanley Cup