Over the last little while, the Return to Play committee has been debating several options on how the league should return when it is given the green light to do so, and word is the NHL and NHL Players’ Association are close to agreeing on a playoff format that would consist of 24 teams.
That means six of the league’s seven Canada-based teams would have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup (sorry, Ottawa), the most since 1987.
For you history buffs out there, the last time every Canadian team made the playoffs was the 1985-86 season when Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Quebec qualified.
The NHL’s traditional playoff system, at least since the 1979-80 season, has included 16 teams, and while there have been some variations over the years (division- versus conference-based), the number the teams that qualify for the post-season has remained the same.
The proposed 24-team playoff format would be comprised of conference matchups, and because not every team played the same number of games before the season was suspended on March 12, points percentage would be used to determine the final standings.
But wait, there’s more.
Under the proposal, which still needs to be approved by both the league and the players’ union, the top four seeds in each conference would get a first-round bye but would play in a three-game tournament as sort of a warm-up when the puck drops on Round 2.
Seeds 5 through 12 would be matched up against each other in what would be called the play-in series using a best-of-five format, and the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs would be best-of-seven series.
The proposed playoff system would also use a bracket-style format, and there would not be any reseeding, which means the highest seed in the conference would not necessarily play the lowest seed in the conference as the playoffs progress.
For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be matched up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in one of the best-of-five play-in series, and the winner of that series would go on to play the top-seeded Boston Bruins in the second round.
Yes, Leafs fans, start rolling your eyes and biting your nails, because if this format is approved and the Leafs advance past Round 1, they will still have to play the dreaded Bruins in the second round.
I guess some things never change.
Overall, I think fans would be receptive to this type of format for this year only considering the circumstances that we find ourselves in, but I wouldn’t want to see 24 teams make the playoffs in future years because it really waters down the importance of the regular season.
Here is what the proposed 24-team playoff standings and format look like:
Eastern Conference playoff seeds
1. Boston Bruins* (top overall seed)
2. Tampa Bay Lightning*
3. Washington Capitals*
4. Philadelphia Flyers*
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
6. Carolina Hurricanes
7. New York Islanders
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
10. Florida Panthers
11. New York Rangers
12. Montreal Canadiens
Western Conference playoff seeds
1. St. Louis Blues*
2. Colorado Avalanche*
3. Vegas Golden Knights*
4. Dallas Stars*
5. Edmonton Oilers
6. Nashville Predators
7. Vancouver Canucks
8. Calgary Flames
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Minnesota Wild
11. Arizona Coyotes
12. Chicago Blackhawks
*indicates teams that would receive a first-round playoff bye
Round 1 (play-in series) matchups
5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays Philadelphia)
6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers (winner plays Washington)
7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays Tampa Bay)
8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays Boston)
5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago (winner plays Dallas)
6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona (winner plays Vegas)
7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota (winner plays Colorado)
8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg (winner plays St. Louis)
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program director, news and senior sports director with Global News Radio 900 CHML in Hamilton.