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 second part of the series, we revisit the state of the NHL before the hiatus and the new playoff format:
The State of the NHL Before the Quarantine
Before the lockdown, the NHL looked like this:
The Eastern Conference
In the Atlantic division, the Boston Bruins (44-14-12, 100 points) and Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) were far ahead of the other teams in the division. The Toronto Maple Leafs sat in third at 36-25-9 with 81 points. That was three points better than the Florida Panthers, who after struggling in February, had seemed to regain its form after a 3-game stretch in which they took the league-best Bruins to overtime and beat the Stanley Cup-defending St. Louis Blues in a defensive showdown.
The Panthers also had a game in hand on the Leafs. Toronto’s status as a legitimate playoff contender was in question after losing to a Zamboni driver in goal. Unfortunately, the Panthers did not hold a wild card spot.
The Metropolitan division has once again been very good this year. Despite not having two bonafide elite teams, the Metro was a logjam with the Washington Capitals (41-20-8, 90 points) and the Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, 89 points) slugging it out for first place. The Pittsburgh Penguins sat in third with 86 points.
Notably, the Metro division held both wild card spots. The Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets precariously held onto those spots with 81 points each. The struggling New York Islanders (80 points) and the surging New York Rangers (79 points), along with the aforementioned Panthers, were all still within striking distance of those wild card spots.
The Western Conference
The Central division was seeing a top-of-the-division battle between the defending champion Blues (94 points) and the Colorado Avalanche (92 points). The Dallas Stars were in third at 86 points, but were sliding on a 6-game losing streak. The Winnipeg Jets (80 points), Nashville Predators (78 points) and the Minnesota Wild (77 points) combined for a 19-9-2 record in each team’s respective last 10 games. The Central had an edge as the Pacific division largely struggled.
Meanwhile, the Pacific was led by the 86-point Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas was only three points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the best offensive duo in the NHL with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks were slugging each other for third place. If either team was in the Central, they would likely only be in fifth place in the division.
The Playoff Format
The NHL solved this problem of teams in the playoff hunt not being able to finish their seasons. With 11 deserving teams in the Eastern Conference and 10 deserving teams in the West, the NHL decided to include 24 teams. This meant that teams that didn’t really deserve a postseason shot like the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens will get a shot.
The NHL has decided to take the top four teams in each conference and hold a round-robin style tournament to determine seeding. The round robin teams will automatically make the 16-team first round. They’ll also have so-called home-ice advantage over their opponent, despite the games only being held in two Canadian cities.
In the East, the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers will battle. The West will see the Blues, Avalanche, Stars and Golden Knights in the round robin.
This means the remaining 16 teams will be matched up in a qualifier series. The teams were determined using point percentage. That is calculated by taking the number of points a team has and dividing it by the potential amount of points it could’ve been earned based on games played. This has resulted in the following match-ups:
In the East, the fifth-seeded Penguins will face the No. 12 seed Montreal Canadiens, who only had a point percentage of .500. The sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes will battle the 11-seed Rangers. The No. 7 seed Islanders rematch the 10th-seeded Panthers. The eighth-seeded Maple Leafs face the No. 9 seed Blue Jackets.
In the West, the fifth-seeded Oilers face the 12-seed Blackhawks, who like the Canadiens were at .500. The sixth-seeded Predators face the 11th-seeded Coyotes. The No. 7 seed Canucks face the 10th-seeded Wild. The 8-seed Flames face the 9-seed Jets.
Length of the Qualifiers
These qualifier series will be a best-of-5. In the normal playoffs, every round is a best-of-7. After the qualifiers, the winners of the qualifiers will be reseeded and paired up with their partner based on the round robins in a best-of-7 that will continue for the rest of the postseason.