Photo: Gregg Forweck/Getty Images
While the NHL isn’t expected to resume the 2019-20 season for at least two months, the league and players are taking time now to brainstorm a way to award the Stanley Cup, even if it comes in August or September, which would ultimately push the start to the 2020-21 season back a bit. NoVa Caps proposes a format to resume this season, have the same offseason events as usual, and start up the next campaign.
As Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals captains Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin told the media on a conference call on Wednesday, the NHL should jump right into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs once returning. That makes a lot of sense … if you add more teams. While the NHL could just use the current format of taking the top-eight teams in terms of points percentage, the wild-card races are so tight that the best solution would be to expand the field from 16 teams to 24.
Take the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators for example. They went 21-3-3 in their final 27 games to secure the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference after being eight points out of the second wild-card spot and owning a record under .500 through 55 games (22-23-10). That doesn’t happen often but the point is that there are no easy outs in today’s NHL and with the talent around the league, there isn’t much separation in between teams.
With that being said, it is highly unlikely that the teams who are rank between 25th-31st would do damage. In fact, the 31st-place Detroit Red Wings were already eliminated from 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff contention nearly three weeks before the NHL paused play.
The NHL should add a play-in round, similar to the wild-card round that the NFL uses, with teams ranked by points percentage. The top two teams in each division would get byes, meaning that the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic Division), Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers (Metropolitan Division), St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche (Central Division), and Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers (Pacific Division) would not participate in the wild-card round. That would put 16 teams in the wild-card round.
The matchups for the wild-card round would look like this:
New York Islanders (Wild Card #2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (Wild Card #3) – winner faces Bruins (Atlantic #1)
Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic #3) vs. New York Rangers (Wild Card #5) – winner faces Lightning (Atlantic #2)
Carolina Hurricanes (Wild Card #1) vs. Florida Panthers (Wild Card #4) – winner faces Capitals (Metropolitan #1)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Metropolitan #3) vs. Montreal Canadiens (Wild Card #6) – winner faces Flyers (Metropolitan #2)
Nashville Predators (Wild Card #2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (Wild Card #3) – winner faces Blues (Central #1)
Dallas Stars (Central #3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (Wild Card #6) – winner faces Avalanche (Central #2)
Winnipeg Jets (Wild Card #1) vs. Minnesota Wild (Wild Card #4) – winner faces Golden Knights (Pacific #1)
Calgary Flames (Pacific #3) vs. Arizona Coyotes (Wild Card #5) – winner faces Oilers (Pacific #2)
If you have a hard time seeing where I’m coming from, take out the top two teams in each division and order the rest of the conference from 5-12 in the standings. Essentially, it goes back to the old Stanley Cup Playoff format where it goes seeds 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, and 4-5 squaring off. Instead, it would be seeds 5-12, 6-11, 7-10, 8-9 going head-to-head in the opening round while the top four get a bye.
The wild-card series would be a best-of-three-games format. Why best-of-three? A single-game series would open the door for anyone to get lucky for a single night. Imagine being a team like a Stars, who are 10 points ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings, and having one bad game, your first in weeks or possibly months, without having a chance to bounce back? A best-of-three format gives the better team a chance to advance. On the other hand, a best-of-five or -seven would extend the playoffs too long. Players are going to need time to rest before going at it again next fall.
Of course, all of this assumes that the league can return in time for a full four (and-a-half) round Stanley Cup Playoff tournament. If the calendar becomes an issue, the League could decide to go with a top-eight or even a top-four tournament format.
So what does that mean for the draft lottery? It will not change for the teams who are ranked 25th or lower in the NHL. For the other eight, the sooner a team gets knocked out in the wild-card round, the better draft lottery odds they get. If multiple teams get swept, the team with the lower points percentage would get the higher pick.
As for the summer events, the 2020 NHL Draft Combine would take place during the Stanley Cup Final as usual, the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada, would be on September 24, the NHL Draft at Bell Centre in Montreal would take place from September 26-27, free agency would start on October 1, and the 2020-21 season would start on November 13 with no bye-weeks or All-Star Game. Since Columbus got the 2015 All-Star Game after it was supposed to have it in 2013 (lockout year), it would only make sense if Florida hosted it in 2022.
By Harrison Brown