Photo courtesy of NHL.com
The wait is over. We finally know what is going on. Kind of.
The NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman released a video out of Gary Bettman’s man cave to fill the hockey world in on what the plan is for the return to play format, how the playoffs will work, and, most importantly, the Draft Lottery. The NHL has let us into their planning and one of the biggest things to come out of it is that there is still so much that ranges from unknown to unplanned. There were no hard dates and everything that the NHL does in their step-bys-step (or phase-by-phase) plan will be done upon approval from health officials and government officials.
The plan was laid out in four phases, the first of which is the phase we are currently in. Phase one – wait. The second phase will be, upon medical approval, teams will be able to open their facilities for their players to train. Phase three is going to be a training camp. The duration for training camp is undetermined at this time but Gary Bettman alluded to some players implying four weeks may be necessary and others have stated that it could be far shorter. This is yet another unknown at this point. Phase four would be the opening of the 24-team almost playoffs prior to the real playoffs. There will other things such as scheduling arenas, transportation, and so much more that will be going on behind the scenes, likely with backup plans and backup plans to those. This isn’t set in stone because everything is still very fluid at the moment.
The Return To Play Format
This is going to be the 24-team play-in system that has been widely rumored. The top four teams from each conference will be given a bye into the first round of the official 2019-20 playoffs. The teams from each conference that are granted that bye will be playing each of the other three teams from their group in round-robin style games that will be played under the regular season rules for overtime and shootouts. Any ties in the four-team standings will be broken based upon points-percentage from the season prior to its stoppage on March 11, 2020.
Those four teams in each conference, as seen above, will be seeded into the first round of the playoffs based on their results from the round-robin. This allows each of those teams to play games so that when they do meet their first-round opponent, the higher-seeded teams will not be coming in cold to help ensure that every player that does return to play will be ready to do so at the highest level.
The remaining eight teams in the conference that will return to play will be put into a play-in bracket. Each play-in series will feature a best-of-five with teams again seeded based on points-percentage from March 11, 2020. These games WILL NOT be considered playoff games and it has not been decided as to how exactly the goals, assists, saves and other statistics will be tracked in terms being counted towards regular-season scoring or playoff scoring. So don’t give David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin the Rocket Richard Trophy because Auston Matthews is coming for the title! (Maybe, we still have no idea if how the points will be counted)
There are still some details to be worked out for the real playoffs when it comes to whether the first- and second-round series will be five- or seven-game series. They also still need to agree on how they will seed set the first-round matchups and whether they will just go by seeding or do a bracket-style playoff tournament.
With as many questions as answers, there is still much more to be determined when we begin to discuss the playoffs. What we do know about the play-in games is how the matchups will work out and who plays who. Below are the matchups for both the Eastern and Western Conference. Those matchups can be seen below. As stated, who they play after this play-in round is still very much up for debate based on not only the round-robin play of the top-four seeds but also the NHL and NHLPA’s decision on how exactly to seed or bracket the playoffs.
Where the games take place is also going to be one of the unknowns. The NHL has begun to make plans in various locations across North America and Gary Bettman put a three-to-four week timeline on getting the locations nailed down and more concrete plans in place as to what those will look like. The cities outlined in the presentation are below.
There is still a lot to be decided on what exactly happens when the NHL does return to play but we now have a format and some idea of what it will look like. The actual on-ice product should be fun and we will all be salivating just having hockey back in our lives.
Draft Lottery (and Another One)
This is where things are going to get interesting for NHL Draft fans. There could be TWO lotteries! The first of which, Phase One, will be held on June 26, 2020, the original date for the NHL Draft. The second, Phase Two, will be held before the real playoffs begin at a currently unknown date. At the same time, not much has changed in terms of how the odds of the basement dwellers like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have to win the lottery. The odds for the lottery, below, will be given are the exact same as they were should the season have been finished without interruption.
You’ll notice that all picks beyond the bottom-seven have been given designations of “Team A” through “Team H”. These are placeholders for the teams who lose their play-in round. Those eight teams, four per conference, will be designated as non-playoff teams and they will be considered lottery teams. The only issue is that with the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery scheduled for June 26, the play-in round will likely not have even begun yet. If that first lottery goes off and the lotteries for each of the top three picks all go to the bottom-seven basement dwellers, there will be no need for a second lottery. The teams will be slotted into spots eight to fifteen based on points-percentage from March 11.
The second lottery comes into play if one of the placeholder teams win one of the lotteries. For example, the lottery winners could wind up being Detroit, “Team C”, and Ottawa. If this is the case, the eight teams that lost the play-in series would be put into their own lottery and each team would be given an equal chance of winning that lottery. The lottery would be for the one opportunity to call themselves “Team C”.
This gives these teams an opportunity to both go for the playoff birth that they were attempting to finish off as the season came to a close because of the COVID-19 pandemic and also still gain the right to the lottery position that they would have had should they have fallen short of their goal. Yes, there is an argument that this would be unfair for teams like Montreal and Chicago who could ultimately decide to “tank” the end of their play-in series should they fall down 2-0 in the series.
As “Money Ball” as some fans and analysts like to think the NHL is, there is no way that Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is going to be able to walk into the dressing room halfway through a play-in series and tell Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin to lose the rest of the series to Montreal so they can have a minuscule chance of not only winning one but TWO lotteries.
There are also some fans who are upset that their team could fluke into a first-round matchup by upsetting a team like Pittsburgh or Edmonton, two teams who were near locks for the postseason prior to this. The problem with this would be that a team such as Montreal could wind up ‘ruining’ their draft position. While drafting at 13th overall would be more beneficial to a team looking to retool or rebuild than a pick at 23rd would be, the playoff experience and exposure could be beneficial for their young player’s development. If that rationale doesn’t do it for you, I have nothing. Bad teams sometimes make the playoffs (see: 2013-14 Maple Leafs) so enjoy the run and hopefully it doesn’t end in heartbreaking fashion.
As fans, we should embrace chaos. In a pandemic, we should welcome it with open arms. The NHL might come back soon. If it’s safe and they can do so with the pandemic still in full swing to a degree, this could be an exciting time for hockey fans as we just into a weird 24-team tournament that is only playoffs after the first round and the teams that lose in that play-in round aren’t good and might as well get added to the lottery.
Chaos. The NHL probably didn’t do it on purpose but this could be really fun.
Thanks for reading! You can reach me at @theTonyFerrari on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you and find out what you want to see from the team here at Dobber Prospects and myself. Whether it be NHL Draft related or you just want some information on your team’s prospects, we are here to help!