It seems like the NHL is very close to finalizing what the format for a return to play on 2019-20 season would look like.
Things continue to inch closer on a Return to Play format. Still not done, however. My sense is the league now waiting to hear back from the NHLPA on latest 24-team format tweaks. Expectation is both sides will chat again on this today or tomorrow…
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 21, 2020
Now that doesn’t do anything to address where the games will be played, when they would start, what a return of the players would look like, and the thousand other important logistical questions that need to be considered, but it’s a start.
Some of the key details that are know are as follows (via Sportsnet):
The top four seeds (based on points percentage) in the East would be Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. Top four in the West would be St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas. They would receive byes through the play-in, but participate in a three-game tournament to get some action.
The rest of the playoffs would be “bracketed.” That means, in both conferences 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9.
So that would mean an Eastern Conference opening round of:
• 5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays four seed)
• 6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers (winner plays three seed)
• 7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays two seed)
• 8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays one seed)
The first round would be a best of 5 and then the Leafs if they defeat Columbus would face, you guessed it, the Boston Bruins in a best of seven. Crap.
So I’m not really sure how that would sit with Boston, when potentially you could have a 12 seed brought in to the playoffs and instead of facing them they get either the 8 or 9 seed, and it seems like re-seeding after the first round might make sense, but that could just be me trying to come up with pipe dreams where the Leafs don’t face the Bruins in the Conference Quarterfinals.
The Leafs facing the Blue Jackets is interesting since Toronto hasn’t faced the Blue Jackets since October, during the Babcock era. The Leafs managed to win 4-1 in Columbus, and lost in overtime at home 4-3, so perhaps some slight optimism is warranted, although the Blue Jackets might have been the only team more injury plagued than the Leafs this year and having Seth Jones and others available to them now might push them over the top against the Leafs.
Frankly I would have hoped the NHL would have finessed their format enough to give us Leafs/Habs playoff round, and not just because the Habs are terrible.
This seems very likely to be green lit, though there could be some minor adjustments forthcoming. The much bigger questions of where, when, and how still remain.