Photo courtesy of NHL.com
An NHL season suspended by COVID-19 is finally set to resume.
In a multi-part series, we’ll be exploring what the changes look like. In the first part, we look at the changes to the league’s original playoff format and collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
AN OVERVIEW OF THE NORMAL NHL PLAYOFF FORMAT
For all of those new to the NHL, here is how the NHL usually works. Usually, the NHL playoffs are composed of 16 teams. The NHL has 31 teams divided into two conferences — 16 in the East, 15 in the West — with a team in Seattle coming soon. Each conference is divided into two divisions.
The Eastern Conference divisions are the Atlantic division and the Metropolitan division. The Atlantic is largely made up of teams in the northeast along with the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Metropolitan division is largely made up of teams surrounding the New York-Pennsylvania-DC Metro Area. The Western Conference divisions are the Central and Pacific divisions.
Each division’s top three teams make the playoffs, with each conference also including two wild cards. The way the NHL determines playoff teams is by points. The NHL has a point standing system similar to soccer. However, it is different from soccer.
Instead of wins giving a team three points, a team gets two points in the NHL for a win. There are no ties in the NHL, but teams can still earn a point if they manage to lose a game in overtime or the shootout. There are no points awarded for regulation losses. A division winner will usually earn around 105 points in the Eastern Conference divisions and 95 in the West. This year’s postseason will feature 24 teams.
WHY IS THE NHL DOING THE PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR?
With COVID-19 ravaging the world, the NHL was forced to pause its season after March 12. The regular season usually starts in early October, so many individuals are wondering why the NHL is insisting on going forth with an August start for its postseason. That would delay the start of the new season to January.
With a possible fall of the cap ceiling from $81 million to $65 million and a radically increased escrow, the NHL is seemingly backed into a corner to play out this postseason. A positive effect of this is that the NHL and NHL Players Association finally made labor peace. A new CBA was approved by the NHL and NHLPA, and it just needs a vote from the Players Executive Council to come into effect.
The Executive Board is made up of players from each team. For example, one player will represent the team in the union. A cap fallout would be catastrophic to both the NHL and NHLPA’s interests. That’s because new contracts have progressively increased in average annual value and a cap fall by that much would put many of the teams over the NHL salary cap and would cost many jobs.
Unless super talented players are willing to sign for the league minimum, the NHL would lose a lot of talent, because it wouldn’t be able to afford the services of these players. With overseas leagues such as the Russian based KHL eager to improve their market, a mass exodus of talent could be seen going overseas. Thus, not holding the NHL playoffs this season would have a catastrophic effect on the NHL’s future.
DETAILS OF THE NEW CBA
The new CBA would help resolve the escrow issue between the NHL and NHLPA. The new CBA also compromises by allowing players to return to the Olympics for 2022 and 2026. The NHL was largely expected to be entering a lockout this offseason. A CBA extension last September ensured peace until 2022.
The NHL has been ravaged by lockouts during Commissioner Gary Bettman’s tenure. Under the new CBA, labor peace will be at an all-time high during Bettman’s reign. However, the NHL will see a flat cap for a couple of years at $81.5 million due to lost revenue. In order for the cap to increase, the NHL has to recoup $4.5 billion in revenues.
The NHL and NHLPA approved the new CBA on July 10, thus ensuring labor peace and officially starting the NHL playoffs.