It appears the NHL is desperately holding on to the idea that they want to finish this season in some way, shape, or form, even if that means only starting next season in November. This leaves many fans wondering how they will go about getting this done.
As I pondered the many possibilities, three key thoughts came to mind that prompted the scenario presented here. The first thought is that the NHL loves to complicate things in areas they don’t really need to (see goaltender interference and player safety for examples). The second is that they will want to include every single team to try to get all fan bases excited for the return of hockey. The last is that the NHL is still in love with this idea of divisional rivalries and this unprecedented return provides a platform to inject some hatred on that level. With that in mind, here is a rather crazy look at a suggestion of what could potentially be in store if the NHL does indeed return to action.
No Regular Season
With the amount of time lost, the league has admitted they would be willing to start next season in November 2020 and end in July 2021. This, to me, means that the NHL will be looking for two months of action upon their return. Playoffs are usually two months so there’s no time for the regular season. I also think the way back into fan’s hearts is through meaningful games for everyone. Now, the dozen or so games left were meaningful for some teams, but not nearly enough. Teams should play 2-3 pre-playoff games to get back in game shape. These will mostly be to avoid injuries once games ramp up significantly in the next portion of the calendar, but no games that are worth points.
Frozen Four Tournament Style Play-In per Division
*All team ranks are based entirely on current standings.
Each team slotted 1-3 within their respective division gets to skip the ten-day tournament and wait until the start of the playoffs. The rest of the teams within the division play for the Wild Card spot available within the division. Play-ins are one-game, series are best two out of three. The schedule would be as follows:
Day 1: Play-in – All losers here will have ramped up for one game only. Sorry to those fans, but at least it was meaningful. More exciting than 10 games without meaning which is what all these teams were in store for if they simply played out the regular season.
Atlantic: Detroit Red Wings vs. Ottawa Senators
Metropolitan:New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils
Pacific: Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
Atlantic: Buffalo Sabres vs. Montreal Canadiens
Metropolitan: New York Islanders vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pacific: Arizona Coyotes vs. Anaheim Ducks
Central: Nashville Predators vs. Minnesota Wild
Atlantic: Florida Panthers vs. Play-in winner
Metropolitan: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Play-in winner
Pacific: Vancouver Canucks vs. Play-in winner
Central: Winnipeg Jets vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Winners of the previous series face off to earn the right to their division’s
Wild Card spot.
Now they can start the real playoffs. There would be no crossing of divisions until the Conference Final and a first round that is a best 3-of-5 to expedite the series with having already lost over a week to the play-in tournament. As of Round 2, it’s the regular 4-of-7 for three rounds to crown a Stanley Cup Champion.
Why this entire system? It allows for every team to play at least one meaningful game, the teams get slotted for draft lottery per round as they get eliminated and according to previous points total (so losers of the play-ins get 1-2-3 odds for lottery based on points when the season stopped due to the pandemic and so on for each playoff round). The play-in even works because the one division that doesn’t have it (Central) doesn’t have a single team below 70 points and so they shouldn’t be slotted 1-2-3 for the draft anyway.
For the teams in the playoffs, they get rewarded for a strong season until the closure with some extra time to get in game shape. Additionally, they don’t have their season play-out in a one-game format. They can play an extra game or two of exhibition to get everyone loose. They can watch the fun.
The playoff format remains gruelling enough to not be insulting to the task of winning the Stanley Cup. It handicaps the teams according to the season they were having prior to the closure, and it can be done in about a two-month time span.
Finally, the NHL can decide on a location per division to play the games and this will alleviate the travel league-wide. Not to mention the added hatred of a guaranteed divisional second round of the playoffs. Is it a perfect system? Absolutely not, but it seems to check so many boxes that will need to be covered by the league, all of which MUST end with fan engagement, and what better way to get fans involved than having each team still able to win the cup at the onset of the season while still rewarding teams that had a strong pre-pandemic campaign.