Whenever the NHL returns, it will do so with a unique playoff format. Assuming nothing even more cataclysmic happens in the world — and this being 2020 makes that a dangerous assumption — games might not start until August.
There are still some significant details to be worked out, including the locations for the games and formats for the early playoff rounds. Money, notably how it will be divvied up among the players, teams and league, also could throw a hand grenade into things. And wouldn’t that just be typical for this calendar year?
But as it relates to the playoff format, here are some winners and losers.
Eight teams that were not in the playoffs when play was halted on March 12 are now included in the qualifying round: N.Y. Islanders, N.Y. Rangers, Florida and Montreal in the East; Vancouver, Minnesota, Arizona and Chicago in the West.
Buffalo (.493) and New Jersey (.493) played two fewer games than Montreal (.500), the final seed in the East, but were left out of the qualifying round for having a worse points percentage than the Canadiens. But the NHL got it right that no team with a points percentage less than .500 got in.
The Flyers. Given how well they played against the league’s top teams, there is no reason to think they couldn’t win the round-robin against Boston, Washington, and Tampa Bay and enter the playoffs as the East’s No. 1 seed.
The Flyers. They had a massive home-ice advantage, but will not be seeing the Wells Fargo Center anytime soon. The commissioner hinted that teams could play in home buildings for the conference and Stanley Cup finals, but given the dramatic medical infrastructure the NHL will build in these hub cities, do they really want to risk allowing players on airplanes again just to play in what likely will be empty buildings anyhow?
The potential hub cities in the U.S. are Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh. It’s hard to see the three Canadian cities under consideration — Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver — having a chance to host games unless their government eases its 14-day quarantine policy for international visitors. Two hub cities will be selected in the next 3-4 weeks to host a conference, but the league is not limiting itself to geography. NBC will have significant input.
Those looking for a firm date on when this will happen. Teams will not report for a training camp before July 1 and commissioner Gary Bettman said it could be as late as mid-July. The most likely time frame for the start of games would be late July/early August.
Alex Ovechkin. As a result of the plug officially being pulled on the regular season, Ovechkin can claim his record ninth Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. He’ll share it with Boston’s David Pastrnak — each had 48. Capitals fans will point out that Ovie played in two fewer games than Pastrnak. Bruins fans will quickly mention that their guy was plus-21 while Ovechkin was minus-12.
The Penguins. They lost eight of their last 11 games and fell into the qualifying round when the Flyers overtook them in the standings. Pittsburgh draws goaltender Carey Price and Montreal in the Q-round. Price admittedly was slumping when the stoppage hit, but he is capable of stealing a best-of-five series.
Notable players who had significant injuries before the shutdown, but likely will be back when play resumes:
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Columbus; Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida; Johnny Boychuk, D, N.Y. Islanders
Jake Guentzel, LW, Pittsburgh; Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina; Seth Jones, D, Columbus
Chris Kreider, LW, N.Y. Rangers; Jake Muzzin, D, Toronto; Phil Myers, D, Flyers
Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay; James van Riemsdyk, LW, Flyers; Sami Vatanen, D, Carolina
Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona; Calvin de Haan, D, Chicago; Travis Hamonic, D, Calgary
Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago; Mark Stone, RW, Vegas; Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis
The Arizona Coyotes. They were in first place when they gave up three prospects and two picks to get Taylor Hall, an unrestricted free agent who has never won a playoff series. The Coyotes, coached by Rick Tocchet, stumbled and would not have been in the postseason without the expanded format the NHL is using. Now, if Arizona can spring an upset or two, maybe Hall would consider re-signing.
Yes, Carolina is expected to have Dougie Hamilton, who was a contender to be a Norris Trophy finalist before he broke his leg in mid-January, but the Hurricanes draw the Rangers in the Q-round. The Blueshirts have dominated Carolina lately, including four wins (all in regulation) this season.
The Chicago Blackhawks. They were ready to turn the page in April when chairman Rocky Wirtz stunningly fired team president and CEO John McDonough as the team sat in 12th place in the conference. Turns out 12th was good enough for the postseason in this wacky year.
Bettman indicated the 2020-21 season would be played in its entirety even if it had to start as late as January. For the seven teams not qualified for the postseason — Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, and Ottawa from the East; Anaheim, L.A., and San Jose out West — that would mean inactivity for nearly 10 months.