Never would we have ever thought of the National Hockey League doing a 24-Team playoff in order to attempt to finish the season with a Stanley Cup Champion but here we are. To be fair, the Stanley Cup as not been awarded twice in its historic history: the 1919 Spanish flu season and the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
So let’s look at some of the potential good news that can come out of this. For one, more teams are eligible for making the playoffs. Note how I didn’t say officially in as the first round of the playoffs is a play in round with a best of 5. But this adds multiple markets for TV deals to be used to get extra money so the league can stay running. It gets more fans excited that their team is playing and a shot for getting hot at the right time and running the table. Giving younger teams some playoff experience while the veteran teams may get their last push for a cup before certain players retire.
What is also handy is the reseeding after each individual round. This can easily add some excitement as some teams haven’t seen others in the playoffs for quite a while given the more divisional matchup format of past playoffs. While it may be harder for teams to play and for TV channels to get the word out on the potential matchups going forward, I can only see this as a net win for the NHL at the moment. With people starving for hockey, and a chance to play into the playoffs, new rivalries may form from this format.
Now for the bigger picture conversation: Which teams are benefiting the most from this? In my eyes it has to be Florida, Montreal, Arizona, Chicago, and Minnesota. Florida and Arizona have been struggling markets for the NHL to keep a foot in and with the more recent ownership and general manager updates in Arizona as well as the new coaching in Florida, expect these two teams to put on quite a show during the play in. Montreal seeing a return boosts their fans moral a bit and with a very solid Carey Price in net, the Pittsburgh / Montreal matchup could be one of the more entertaining matchups. Minnesota catches a break in their tough Central Division to take on a strong but young Vancouver team and I expect this series to go the distance with goaltending being the deciding factor here. Chicago needed this for their new coach, who took over last season and hasn’t been able to do much to turn the team around just yet. But battling Edmonton could prove to be too tall of a task for Chicago unless they fire on all cylinders.
But this format has also caused some issues and headaches for other teams as well. The seeding games for the top 4 in each conference could cause teams like Boston and St. Louis to drop to a 4 seed if they lose out in the reseeding. Other teams include Pittsburgh, who have to face a well-rested Price in net. Carolina now runs into the Rangers who have a 3 deep goalie roster they have rotated and beat Carolina in all of the regular season matchups.
So do I think that this playoff format can help push the NHL into the spotlight? It is very possible. If the NHL can get some buzz around these playoffs and generate some more fans and excitement we could see a modified playoff format in the future as well as a bigger / better tv deal when the TV rights come up soon. If the NHL can get ESPN and other networks to report and push the NHL, there can be a growth spurt that would come from all of this.
So here are all my predictions for reseedings and the play in rounds for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Note at the time of this writing no players have said yes or not to playing, so predictions are made with all players available for their teams.
Eastern Conference Reseedings: #1 Boston, #2 Washington, #3 Tampa, #4 Philadelphia. Not much of a drastic change except for Washington hopping over Tampa for the #2 seed. Boston has been solid and strong all season and I don’t expect them to be too rusty from the break.
Western Conference Reseedings: #1 Colorado, #2 St. Louis, #3 Dallas, #4 Vegas. Colorado has had a hot hand before and I can see them sneaking past St. Louis for the #1 seeding. Dallas can also move up to the #3 seed overtaking Vegas. Not knocking Vegas and how good they are but the Pacific Conference teams have been either Young or not very good this year during the regular season.
Eastern play in rounds:
#5 Pittsburgh vs #12 Montreal: Montreal healthy could pose a real problem for Pittsburgh and Crosby. Expect this to go 5 games with Montreal taking the series.
#6 Carolina vs. #11 New York (Rangers): Despite the regular season record against New York, New York didn’t get to answer who should be their starter going forward, and this could lead to some issues. Expect Carolina to win this one, but it might be a long one.
#7 New York (Islanders) vs. #10 Florida: Even though Florida got in, don’t expect them to go very far here. New York is a bit more Veteran and experienced enough with Troz behind the bench. It will more than likely be a short series but this will be good experience for Florida going forward.
#8 Toronto vs. #9 Columbus: Expect this to go 5 games. Expect this to be a trench warfare type matchup. It’s a bad draw for both teams. Toronto may have the edge with Matthews but this could go either way.
#5 Edmonton vs #12 Chicago: Chicago were sellers at the end of the trade deadline and weren’t expected to make the playoffs. McDavid and Edmonton will be too much to handle but it will be a 4 game series with Kane possibly sneaking a win from Edmonton.
#6 Nashville vs #11 Arizona: Nashville hasn’t really impressed me despite their record. This could be an upset alert with Taylor Hall now with Arizona. Don’t be surprised if Hall helps Arizona steal this series from Nashville.
#7 Vancouver vs #10 Minnesota: Another slugfest alert here. Vancouver is a young team with weapons and Minnesota is a battle tested veteran team. If the rumors are true, Minnesota could bring their AHL goalie of the year from the Iowa Wild up and cause a great goaltending matchup between Kaapo Kahkonen and Jacob Markstrom. 5 games and Minnesota squeaks out of the qualifying round.
#8 Calgary vs #9 Winnipeg: Interesting Canadian matchup that could see some sparks fly in this matchup. Despite the close seeding between teams, Winnipeg if their goaltending is on, can take this series in 3 games if they show up. Giving the edge to Winnipeg despite the star power on Calgary.
Who do you think makes it out of the qualifying rounds? Will the teams being reseeded like where they eventually land or do you think there could be a bad matchup for a lower top 4 seed? Love to hear your thoughts.