Against all odds, if/when the NHL returns to play this summer, the Montreal Canadiens will be in the playoffs.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is reporting that the NHL and NHLPA are working on a 24-team playoff, an idea that has been gaining traction over the past few days according to multiple reports.
The format, Friedman says, would include eight best-of-five “play-in” series, involving the teams seeded from #5 to #12 in each conference. The top four teams in each conference would not have to play a play-in series, but would participate in their own three-game tournament to get game-ready, which will affect playoff seeding according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
The NHL return-to-play format currently under discussion allows for some jockeying among the top-four teams in each conference (BOS/TB/WASH/PHI … STL/COL/VGK/DAL). It would see them play each other — three games, in-conference — with the outcomes helping determine seeding.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 21, 2020
The bottom-seven teams in the NHL’s overall standings would not return to action this season.
The idea still needs approval from players and teams, although it appears to have a lot of benefits.
The playoffs would be conference-based with teams seeded by points percentage, meaning the Montreal Canadiens would finish 12th in the Eastern Conference. In any other season, that would mean the Habs missed the playoffs, but this year it could set up a best-of-five series against Sidney Crosby and the No. 5 seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canadiens were 10 points out of a playoff spot when the NHL paused operations back in March, and no other team getting to play under this format has fewer points.
The winner of the Canadiens-Penguins series would play the No. 4 seed (currently the Philadelphia Flyers) in a seven-game series, in what would amount to the first-round of a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs.
Just where the games will take place is still a mystery, as hub cities still need to be chosen, although it will almost certainly be held without fans. There has been some suggestion lately that the NHL will pick two hub cities (one in each conference), instead of four, which was originally being reported.
Following the eight play-in series, the NHL would be left with a 16-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament, with seven-game series to decide each round as normal.
Whether the NHL considers the play-in games to be “playoff” games will matter for a few reasons, as it could have ramifications on the draft lottery as well as completing trades with conditions based on future outcomes.
The Canadiens and Penguins played each other three times in 2019-20, with the Canadiens winning 4-1 in Pittsburgh on December 10, and the Penguins winning 3-2 in overtime at the Bell Centre on January 4 and 4-1 at home on February 14.
The Pens and Habs have played each other in the playoffs on two previous occasions (1998 and 2010), with Montreal winning both times.
Here’s how the proposed format would look:
- St Louis Blues
- Colorado Avalanche
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Dallas Stars
- #5 Edmonton Oilers vs #12 Chicago Blackhawks (winner plays #4)
- #6 Nashville Predators vs #11 Arizona Coyotes (winner plays #3)
- #7 Vancouver Canucks vs #10 Minnesota Wild (winner plays #2)
- #8 Calgary Flames vs #9 Winnipeg Jets (winner plays #1)
- Boston Bruins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Washington Capitals
- Philadelphia Flyers
- #5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #12 Montreal Canadiens (winner plays #4)
- #6 Carolina Hurricanes vs #11 New York Rangers (winner plays #3)
- #7 New York Islanders vs #10 Florida Panthers (winner plays #2)
- #8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs #9 Columbus Blue Jackets (winner plays #1)
Eliminated from contention
The bottom-seven teams:
- Buffalo Sabres
- New Jersey Devils
- Anaheim Ducks
- Los Angeles Kings
- San Jose Sharks
- Ottawa Senators
- Detroit Red Wings