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Lightning Round: how a re-seeded playoffs affects the Bolts

This NHLPA proposal focuses on the Conference rather than the Division.

New York Islanders v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five
TAMPA, FL - MAY 8: Brian Boyle #11 and Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a goal against goalie Thomas Greiss #1 and Thomas Hickey #14 of the New York Islanders during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round in the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on May 8, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHLPA Executive Board is currently voting on a 24-team playoffs proposal that will focus on standings within the Conference rather than the Divisional setup we’ve had since 2013.

Here’s what it might look like. Apart from the “Play-In” round, it looks satisfyingly familiar to the one the Tampa Bay Lightning passed through en route to their 2004 Stanley Cup. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Like 2004, there might be the New York Islanders in the first round. The Montreal Canadiens are probably not going to challenge for anything, but maybe the Philadelphia Flyers show up again in the Conference Finals. It would be a really weird coincidence if it happened again.

The proposal has the bottom eight teams in each Conference playing a best-of-five series before the “real” first round starts. During this time, there’s speculation the top-four teams in each Conference will play amongst each other (Round Robin-style) for their seeding. Who knows, we might get the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round after all.

Assuming the Lightning stay in their second position in the Conference — which is a big achievement considering how they started that I hadn’t noticed since we never look at the Conference standings — let’s have a look at who they might see in each round.

First Round

New York Islanders (7) OR Florida Panthers (10)

I don’t think the Lightning have a serious rivalry against the Panthers, despite the Florida connection. They’ve never really been on the path to the Cup for the Bolts.

The Lightning and Islanders do have a recent history in the playoffs, but without the Steven Stamkos vs. John Tavares battle of the 91s, it’s never felt the same.

In terms of play styles, I think the Lightning are very capable of finishing those teams off in three to five games. I don’t get a Columbus vibe from either.

Second Round

Washington Capitals (3) OR Carolina Hurricanes (6) OR New York Rangers (11)

Not the Caps again! Redemption for the 2018 defeat would be nice but it would be a very tough matchup.

The Canes play like the Lightning in that they love to control the play and push to the middle of the ice. Playing them would be an interesting like-for-like battle. They’ll be happy to get Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, and both their goalies back from injury.

Hank, you’re still playing? It would be really weird to see Henrik Lundqvist in front of a completely different team after five short years. There’s an outside chance it might happen.

Third Round

Boston Bruins (1) OR Toronto Maple Leafs (8) OR Columbus Blue Jackets (9) OR Philadelphia Flyers (4) OR Pittsburgh Penguins (5) OR Montreal Canadiens (12)

The Blue Jackets will have to go through Toronto and Boston before they come close to touching us. Like the scared protagonist says as they barricade the door from the monsters on the outside, “that should be enough.”

It’s nice to not have to play Boston or Toronto before the Conference Finals when originally they would’ve had to play BOTH.

Pittsburgh is a real dark horse to come out of this corner of the bracket. Bring on a repeat of 2015!

Stanley Cup Final

Any of the 12 teams in the West

We’ll worry about this when we get there.

I’d like to know what you think. Is this a better format for the Lightning? Are you more excited for these opponents than what they would’ve been in the original format? Can we all tell Gary that we prefer the variety of new opponents rather than the same-old?

I will say, while I’m more optimistic about this format for the Lightning, there is a very good chance they get goalie’d. The break is going to wild things to players, and the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Henrik Lundqvist, and Braden Holtby all have “series stealing” potential. Not all of them had good seasons — in fact Varlamov had the best of them all — but only one of them needs four good games to create chaos. Hopefully Andrei Vasilevskiy shows up and is the best of them all.

Lightning Links

  • If you haven’t read Lauren’s story that came out yesterday, I implore you to. It’s powerful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s important.
  • This story by Elliotte Friedman has all the rumors and reports circling around the NHL currently. There’s too many to track, but this one does a good job.
  • For those who still want to hear about last year’s first round loss, here’s this podcast!
  • Dom L’s fantasy model has run the numbers for the playoff format talked about above, and shows the winners and losers from each format. The Lightning have the best odds at winning the Cup this year according to him. About one-in-five. And considering 2015 was five years ago, we’re due.
  • The HHoF is going to be doing their voting digitally for the first time ever. Usually, there are paper ballots that get counted up at a conference. “‘This voting system we developed actually might work very well and be more efficient in the future because we can use it on tablets within the meeting and make the balloting more efficient,’ said Jeff Denomme, president of the Hockey Hall of Fame.”