On Tuesday evening, the NHL revealed its plan to resume gaming this season despite the coronavirus pandemic, and within all of the proposed plans the leagues are working out, this is hands down the best.
The 2020 regular season has been canceled. No more games are played, the board has been wiped clean. The league will instead move to a 24-team playoff format, rewarding teams with the best stoppage records while expanding the field to give more teams the chance to win the Lord Stanley’s Cup.
How is that supposed to work?
The league takes the four best teams from each conference on points and puts them in a pool. These teams play a mini round robin tournament to determine the seeding for the playoffs. As things stand, these teams will be:
East: Boston Bruins, Philadelphia flyer, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington capitals.
West: Colorado avalanche, Dallas stars, St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights.
The remaining 16 teams will compete against each other in play-in series to decide who will play whom in the first round. These series are set in stone for their point percentages so we know what this preliminary round will look like.
Of course, these play-in teams would be seeded based on their standing in the series. For example, if the Blackhawks upset the Oilers, they would move into the playoffs as the lowest seed and play against the first-placed team in the Western Conference Round-Robin.
This format isn’t that great for teams like the Hurricanes:
Of course there are no easy solutions to cleanly end a season unlike any we’ve seen or hopefully will ever see again, but it’s especially annoying when you look at the league tables and see that the hurricanes would have had a goodbye – a goodbye! – in the west, but in the east they stare straight into the barrel so as not to even reach the “real” playoffs.
Tom Hunter of our Colorado Avalanche site Mile High Hockey thinks it might be a little too complicated.
“In typical NHL fashion, the league seems to have made their return game plan more complicated than it needs to be. Two draft lotteries, a new “play-in” component and a playoff with 16 teams, which may or may not contain a best-of-five series in the first two rounds. The way the league puts the format together only makes sense when you consider that the league needs to get through as many games as possible in order to meet television deals. “
Where would games be played?
There has been speculation that the NHL would select a single host city to host the Games, but under this new plan there would be two “hub” cities, one for the East and one for the West, to host the respective tournaments.
These locations have not yet been finalized, but currently potential cities are: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis / St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
These locations would allow players to be monitored and routinely tested, as well as keeping them as isolated as possible for the safety of players and NHL staff. According to the plan, teams would be limited to 50 people each in their host cities to limit the number of people who come into contact with each other.
When should this start?
There is no specific date when the NHL will resume play. The league is waiting to see how the pandemic progresses to finalize the details, however there is a loose plan for how the playoffs will begin with a four-phase system.
- Phase 1 (Tuesday): Announcement of the league’s intentions to end the regular season and advance to the playoffs with 24 teams.
- Phase 2 (June): Return to the schedule, which will be announced to teams and the public with host cities and final details.
- Phase 3 (July): A mini training camp for teams and players to get back into play before the start of the playoffs.
- Phase 4 (no date): start of round robin, qualifying round and playoff games.
So is that a good idea?
The defining moment for the start of the coronavirus crisis for sports fans was the announcement that March Madness will be canceled. We missed one of the most exciting months in sport that nothing has replaced. This expanded NHL playoff format would immediately draw attention to itself with its uniqueness and provide every sports fan, not just dedicated hockey fans, with an event to look forward to.
Kent Basky of our Canucks site, Nucks Misconduct, commented on how fans feel about the return.
The return to action is something that Canucks fans are definitely excited about, thanks in part to the return of the game, the general sentiment that the team is making positive progress this season, and most importantly, their first playoff appearance in 5 years for the Team based. When it comes to whether a return to action without a vaccine makes sense, the fan base is predictably mixed.
There’s nothing in sports like playoff hockey, period. The intensity, the drama – we get more of that. While winning the Stanley Cup this year could be tied to an asterisk in the history books, changing the season format is a great way to not only ensure we have a winner – but in the fairest, most dramatic way possible is .
Fans won’t be there, we all know that, but that could also see a unique aspect of hockey. As the UFC showed us, there is some excitement in hearing things that we just don’t hear at crowded sporting events, and this provides an opportunity to learn about the sport in ways that many may not appreciate.
The NHL is not trying to postpone the season and resume in the middle, but instead offers us a well-rounded and, above all, well-founded way for the league to end the year. Whenever this playoff tournament takes place, it will be great fun, but hopefully it will be safe – and I’m so looking forward to it.
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