When the NHL season was put on hold in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, all possibilities remained on the table regarding the season’s end. According to reports, the conclusion of the NHL’s 2019-20 campaign could take the form of a 24-team playoff.
Since 2013, the NHL has used a divisional wild-card format that pitted eight teams in either conference against one another. Under the potential postseason for this season, the bracketed playoffs would be conference-based.
For the opening round of the playoffs, the top four teams in either conference would receive a bye as seeds 5 through 12 compete in best-of-five play-in series. The top four seeds would be determined by standings point percentage when play was suspended.
The play-in round would cut the postseason field down to 16 teams, allowing the NHL to proceed with its traditional 16-team format from that point forward. At that stage, each round would proceed with seven-game series.
Should the NHL and NHLPA agree on the 24-team format, two hub cities are likely to be used to host the postseason. Commissioner Gary Bettman previously stated that up to nine locations are under consideration.
However, no plan has gained league or player approval. “I’m not aware of any agreement yet,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly when asked about the playoff format. “Don’t want to jump the gun on anything.”
The NHLPA executive committee is expected to discuss return-to-play issues and the potential playoff format during a meeting Thursday.
Current Playoff Seeding Layout
To alleviate concerns regarding game fitness and form while the top four seeds in each conference sit out the first round, a mini-tournament among the top teams has been proposed. It’s currently unclear whether the mini-tournament would impact seeding moving forward.
Once the opening round is complete, the postseason would proceed as follows:
- The No. 4 Seed would take on the winner of the No. 5-No. 12 matchup
- The No. 3 Seed would take on the winner of the No. 6-No. 11 matchup
- The No. 2 Seed would take on the winner of the No. 7-No. 10 matchup
- The No. 1 Seed would take on the winner of the No. 8-No. 9 matchup
Based on point percentage, the playoff seeding would place the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues as the league’s two top seeds.
After earning a record of 44-14-12 during the regular season, the Bruins would be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The other three teams to enjoy a first-round bye would be the Lightning (2), Capitals (3), and Flyers (4).
For the play-in series, the Penguins (5) would take on the Canadiens (12), the Hurricanes (6) would take on the Rangers (11), the Islanders (7) would take on the Panthers (10), and the Maple Leafs (8) would take on the Blue Jackets (9).
After earning a record of 42-19-10 during the regular season, the Blues would be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The other three teams to enjoy a first-round bye would be the Avalanche (2), Golden Knights (3), and Stars (4).
For the play-in series, the Oilers (5) would take on the Blackhawks (12), the Predators (6) would take on the Coyotes (11), the Canucks (7) would take on the Wild (10), and the Flames (8) would take on the Jets (9).
Golden Knights, Bruins, Lightning Lead Contenders
According to odds last updated in early May, a trio of contenders leads a tight field to win the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Golden Knights lead all teams with +500 odds despite being the Western Conference’s third seed.
Following closely behind the favorites are Boston (+550) and Tampa Bay (+650).
Next in line is a group of three teams level at +850, which is made up of the Blues, Avalanche, and Capitals. At +1200, the Flyers and Penguins round out the list of eight total teams with odds better than +1600.