Leafs would play Blue Jackets in NHL's planned 24-team playoff format

May 21 2020, 5:52 pm

If/when the NHL returns to play this summer, the Leafs won’t have to play the Boston Bruins.

Well, maybe.

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 would affect playoff seeding according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

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 Toronto Maple Leafs would finish eighth in the Eastern Conference. That would set up a best-of-five series against the No. 9 seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.

As luck would have it, the winner of the Leafs-Blue Jackets series would play the No. 1 seed (currently the Boston Bruins) in a seven-game series, in what would amount to the first-round of a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. Should the Leafs play Boston, it would mark the third year in a row that the two teams have squared off in the playoffs.

Just where the games will take place is still a mystery, as a 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 that have conditions based on future performance.

The Leafs and Blue Jackets played each other twice in 2019-20, with the Leafs winning 4-1 in Columbus on October 4, and the Blue Jackets winning 4-3 in overtime at Scotiabank Arena on October 21. The Leafs and Blue Jackets have never played each other in a playoff series before.

Here’s how the proposed format would look:

Western Conference

Top seeds:

  1. St Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars

Play-in series:

  • #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)

Eastern Conference

Top seeds:

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers

Play-in series:

  • #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
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