NHL Considering Scrapping Regular Season, Head Straight to Expanded Playoffs

Over the past two months, we’ve seen numerous concepts and ideas pitched about how to get the NHL back on the ice to complete its regular season and the playoffs in order to award the Stanley Cup. We’ve seen the league pivot from a hub format to teams playing in their own arenas and back again. We’ve heard about a 16-team playoff field and a 24-team playoff field depending on the day. In addition, there’s been the concept of neutral site games and the draft taking place before the season was actually complete. There’s been the mindset of playing the rest of the regular season out or going directly to the postseason. It’s all depended on the day.

The latest report, according to the New York Post, is that the league is contemplating scrapping the remaining 189 games of the regular season and going directly to the postseason. One of the biggest concerns about forgoing the rest of the regular season slate, unsurprisingly, is money. There is the potential that $150 million could be lost should the league make that decision to move straight to the postseason.

Along with the potential fallout of tossing the rest of the regular season campaign into the trash would be the expansion of the postseason field. The league, at the moment, is leaning toward a 24-team field, which would leave only seven teams on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. One of the reasons for making this move, should the league go that route, is due to a concern about having adequate COVID-19 testing for players and personnel. In addition, you have to deal with the potential travel issues with the US/Canadian border still closed at this point in time. The league is also considering this as an option to avoid a potential second shutdown if the coronavirus should have another outbreak.

At this point in time, it’s unclear if the league would stick to the original concept of the top six teams in each division making the playoffs. Theoretically, it makes more sense to put the top 12 teams in the standings in each conference into the postseason based on this system. That would put teams like the Rangers (.564 points percentage) and Blackhawks (.514 points percentage) into the playoff field as opposed to the Sabres (.493) and Ducks (.472), who would earn the final spots in the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions, respectively.

Should the league jump straight into the playoffs, including this extended field, that would shift the odds for the draft lottery. That would throw the seven teams that failed to make the postseason eligible to win the first overall pick. Under the original concept proposed by the league, for example, Detroit couldn’t fall lower than #2 in the lottery while Ottawa could end up with no worse than the third and fourth overall picks as they own San Jose’s first-round selection. Those odds could shift depending on how things are slotted for the new format.

The biggest concern from a fan perspective would be the fact that there would be a best-of-three play-in series where the third-place teams (if sticking with a division format would play the sixth-place squads and the fourth and fifth-place teams would also do battle. It would only take a bad bounce or a hot goaltender to see a higher-seeded team get knocked out early by a squad that wouldn't have been in the postseason otherwise. The top two teams would get a free pass in the play-in round. After those play-in series were determined, there would be a regular 16-team playoff field to work with en route to having a team hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice. There’s going to be pushback from some part of the general public depending on what the decision is that comes down but it seems that this is the direction that the league is headed.

The NHL hasn’t been in action since March 12. To date, no official dates about when teams will open facilities and get to small group activities have been announced.

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Chris King

Chris King has been immersed in the world of professional and collegiate sports for more than three decades. Whether it's playing pickup games or being involved in organized sports to being a fan, he's checked all the boxes. From the NFL to arena football, the NHL to the KHL, the NBA to the WNBA to college hoops, and even MLB to the KBO. If it's out there, he's covered it and bet on it as well, as Chris has been an expert bettor in his career. Before joining Winners and Whiners back in 2015, his work appeared around the internet and in print. He's written books for Ruckus Books about college basketball, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, golf, and the World Cup. If you're looking for the inside track on hitting a winner, do yourself a favor and read what Chris has to say.