Ice Ice Baby
(Aaron Doster/ USA Today Sports)
There might be light at the end of the tunnel. Earlier this week, the National Hockey League (NHL) announced their plan for the return to play. This news came with a lot of change, but a lot of optimism. Practically anyone can agree that this was a smart move in the attempt to bring sports back.
So, what is hockey’s plan?
First of all, the regular season is completely over. Whenever hockey is scheduled to return, playoff hockey will be what resumes. 24 teams will be included in this simulation of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The top 12 teams from each conference clinched playoff berths, however, the way each round is formatted will be different.
The top four teams in each conference will play round robin games within their conference, to determine seeding for the rest of the playoffs. That being said, the Dallas Stars, who finished fourth in the West during the regular season could end up being the first seed in the West if they win all of their round robin games. Of course, that’s just a hypothetical situation.
The remaining five through twelve seeds in each conference will play a Best-of-5 series to determine who goes to the first round. The format and length of the first and second round series are still to be determined. The conference finals and eventual Stanley Cup Finals will be a Best-of-7 series like it always is. In case you’re more of a visual person, here is how everything shakes out.
Eastern Conference (Round Robin)
(1) Boston Bruins
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning
(3) Washington Capitals
(4) Philadelphia Flyers
Western Conference (Round Robin)
(1) St Louis Blues
(2) Colorado Avalanche
(3) Las Vegas Golden Knights
(4) Dallas Stars
Eastern Conference (Qualifying Round)
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Western Conference (Qualifying Round)
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
Now that we know what the playoff format will look like, let’s dive into possible locations. The NHL has said that they want to resume play in two host cities. The Eastern Conference will play their games in one city, while the West will play in another. The cities that are going to be used when play restarts are still up for debate. There are 10 cities that are possible candidates.
One city that is heavily favored to restart the league in is Las Vegas. Vegas simply has the ability to host so many teams and keep them all in one casino or hotel. The NHL would like to use a Canadian city as well. Since a good amount of the NHL revenue comes from Canadian markets, the NHL would love to split the possible venues between the United States and Canada. My prediction is that the NHL chooses Vegas and a city such as Toronto for the restart. But hey, what does a guy like me know?
What does the new playoff format do for our beloved Washington Capitals?
Whether or not you’re a Caps lover, it doesn’t matter, the whole Good Griefs staff loves them so let’s get into it. Originally, when the NHL said that they were adding a qualifying round before the first round, I was worried. The last thing anyone needed was the Caps playing an excruciatingly painful five game series against someone like the Blue Jackets, where the series would probably have gone five games. The round robin games give the Caps a chance to shake off some of the rust from quarantine. If the Caps play well, even better, maybe they can bump up to the second or first seed in the East by the time the round robin games are over.
Another reason I think this new format could be of assistance is by eliminating some of the teams that always give the Caps trouble. We all know the feeling. Playing the Rangers or the Penguins in the postseason is absolutely brutal and makes everyone nervous. The Caps were finally able to get over the hump in 2018 when they beat the Penguins in six games during the second round of the playoffs. If the Pens or the Rangers could possibly get knocked out during the qualifying round, it could be a great help. Not only would it bring me joy, as I cannot stand their toothless fans, but the added sense of them out of the playoffs might provide some relief. That’s not saying that any team besides the Penguins or Rangers won’t give the Caps trouble. Hell, Columbus was up two games in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Caps team.
This new playoff format is all around a positive. Slowly, sports feel like they’re coming back. Teams that originally weren’t in the playoff picture now find themselves in the mix of competing for the cup. The Caps get some less pressurized games before the gut-wrenching series begin. Everything seems like it’ll be fun, until the Caps start playing elimination games. As Lazlo Holmes frequently says, “Let’s do that hockey.”