According to multiple reports that started with a tweet from Russian reporter Igor Eronko on Sunday night, the NHL is considering the idea of a 24 team playoff format in the event they are able to resume the season, which, if we’re being realistic, looks decreasingly likely.
Even though the prospect of seeing the Stanley Cup lifted this summer seems to grow dimmer with each passing day, the timeline spelled out in Monday’s memo to NHL players does appear to leave room for what is believed to be the preferred re-entry point from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis:
A 24-team, play-in style playoff format designed to maximize revenues — hello Montreal and Chicago! — while including every hopeful from a regular season that will almost certainly be halted at 85-per-cent completion.
But instead of dwelling on the reality of the situation, let’s imagine what that might look like. None of the reports gave any specifc details on the formatting but given the number of teams, it would make sense to have an opening round where the top four teams in each conference get a bye while the bottom eight teams in each conference compete in shortened opening round. How short? A five game series seems reasonable but the league could always get real wild and trim it down to three games or even one spectacular single elimination game.
How fun would it be to see Montreal knock out Pittsburgh in a single game? The Leafs and Rangers in OT where if Toronto can’t score on Henrik Lundqvist, they go home? Sign me up. That kind of chaos would be a welcome return to hockey after an extended break. Well, at least for me, a fan of a team who wouldn’t have to worry about the opening round.
The downside of this approach would be that it gives Chicago a chance to crawl back into the playoff picture and no one deserves that less than them. Although, the possibility of seeing them suffer another ignoble disappointment might make it worth the risk.
Naysayers might downplay this idea because it would give an undeserving team a chance at going all the way to a championship. This is true. Hockey is already a sport with high variance in outcomes relative to true talent and this would certainly increase the range of potential outcomes. But if this season ever resumes, it will always have an asterisk on it anyway. No matter who wins the Stanley Cup this year, people won’t know what to make of it. So why not lean into it? If we come out the other side of this pandemic soon enough and in good enough shape to resume a hockey season, I say have a little fun with it. Let’s see the Coyotes play the Canucks for a chance to extend their season.
Figuring out who the best team was this season is already out the window. So if hockey resumes, let’s make it about having the most fun. And for once, it seems like the NHL has a plan that might do just that.
Other Hockey News
As of yesterday, the AHL season has not yet been officially cancelled but they are on a similar timeline to the other North American sports leagues based on the CDC guidelines from Sunday. Realistically, it seems unlikely the season could resume but for now at least, the league is still holding out hope.