What does the NHL playoff format mean for the Bruins?
By now you’ve heard about the NHL’s plan for a return to hockey, allowing the Stanley Cup to be awarded at some point over the summer.
A lot of things still need to be worked out, but with the NHLPA approving the league’s 24-team playoff plan Friday night, we at least know the framework and know that a return is on the horizon.
The top four teams in each conference by points percentage—Bruins, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers in the East, and Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars in the West—will get a bye.
While the top four in each conference get a playoff bye, they will play the other three bye teams in their conference in a round-robin type format. While the details of this have yet to be finalized, these games have the potential to determine seeding among the top four teams.
The remaining eight teams in the conference would compete in a play-in-series to determine the 16-team traditional playoff format.
Seeds 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 would play each other. In the East that would result in the Penguins vs. Canadiens, Hurricanes vs. Rangers, Islanders vs. Panthers, and Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets. The West would be the Oilers vs. Blackhawks, Predators vs. Coyotes, Canucks vs. Wild, and Flames vs. Jets.
The top seed from the top-four round-robin tournament would face the winner of the 8 vs. 9 series, second seed would get the 7-10 winner, third seed the 6-11 winner, and fourth seed the 5-12 winner.
So with the format paved out, what does it mean for the Boston Bruins? A Bruins team with six more points than the Western Conference leading Blues, and eight more points than the Tampa Bay Lightning who sits second in the Eastern Conference.
First, I believe with this format, the eight teams who will play in the round-robin type format are at a bit of a disadvantage right off the bat.
Sure, seeding may be at stake with the round-robin games, but if there is no reseeding after the play-in-rounds, and no fans in the stands taking away from a true home ice advantage, is there a real difference between the 1st and 4th seeds?
According to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, although the framework of the 24-team playoff format was approved Friday night, not all aspects are set in stone.
Should the NHL and their players decide that a bracket style playoff is not a good idea, and would rather go the traditional route of reseeding after each round, things change a bit and those three round-robin games are suddenly very much important.
But let’s say the league decides that they will go with the playoff bracket format—meaning the Bruins will play either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Columbus Blue Jackets—are players going to come out of a long layoff and hybrid training camp to give it 100% in three games that if you go 0-3 in, really has no negative impact on your Stanley Cup chances?
And what if it’s only seeding that’s up for grabs, a Steven Stamkos, a David Pastrnak or a Tyler Seguin suffer an injury in these three round-robin games and miss the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Now sure, an argument could be made that a player of that magnitude could suffer an injury in game 76, or game 81 which had the potential to be meaningless as well. But games 76 and games 81 don’t come after a four or so month layoff followed by a brief training camp period.
As many NHL coaches and players have mentioned since the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the 2019-20 season, given the situation no return to play plan will be perfect, and not everyone will be happy.
Is the 24-playoff format the best idea? No. But at the end of the day, it is a plan and one that allows for hockey to return.
At this point, I will take any plan that allows hockey to return.