I have a suggestion for how to format the playoffs in the COVID-19 Pandemic season. It isn’t gimmicky, it’s fair, and it can be done in two nights prior to the start of a standard 16-team playoffs. This means nobody can complain, and there should be no asterisk beside the cup winner.
It starts with a fairly simple premise: the 70-game regular season.
Basically, the first thing you do is wipe out the 71st game for any teams who have played one, rolling back that 71st game as if it never happened. This affects only four teams:
St. Louis (Reg. WIN)
Vegas (OT WIN)
Edmonton (Reg. LOSS)
Winnipeg (Reg. WIN)
For the three teams that won their 71st game, simply subtract two points from the standings. Edmonton would see no change in the standings. Moving to 70 games and wiping out any records for any 71st game played eliminates most of the current non-playoff or bubble teams.
Here is what we’re left with in the East:
Eastern Conference Standings @ 70 GP
Based on the current standings, the seedings of BOS, TBL and TOR are all fixed, as there are no Atlantic division teams remaining.
You aren’t messing with any gimmick formats like the 24-team format that has been floating around that only aims to appease bubble teams…
To determine the Metro division champions, WSH should play PHI one game to get to 70 each. There is no need for PIT to play their 70th game as their seeding is fixed.
As for the Eastern Conference wildcard, you can simply play CAR vs NYI on back-to-back nights to determine which of the three eligible teams will occupy the two wildcard spots, using standard tie-breakers if necessary.
Here is what we have in the West, which is a bit more difficult:
Western Conference Standings @ 70 GP
In the Central Division, the seedings are fixed as they are, however Dallas only has 69 games played – we’ll get to that in a moment.
In the Pacific, Vegas and Edmonton are both secure but Calgary is not. The solution here is pretty simple: have all four teams with 69 GP play one more game against each other. To figure out who was going to play who, just look at what was supposed to be the upcoming schedule.
Nashville and Minnesota were scheduled to play on March 15
Dallas and Vancouver were scheduled to play on March 30th
So, the last game played for these four teams would be: DAL vs VAN, and NSH vs MIN.
I will mention here that I could see why the NHL might want to change this just based on geographic regions to have VAN play MIN and DAL play NSH.
Once you’re at 70 games played for the remaining 19 teams (minus Pittsburgh who have no reason to play their 70th game), you simply seed as normal.
This entire plan could end up happening in the span of two nights, which is significantly shorter than the idea of a play-in best-of-5 series and certainly a lot shorter than the only other way of having a completely fair resolution, which is playing out the rest of the regular season.
In my opinion, this is by far the simplest, fairest way to establish the seedings for a standard 16-team playoff format. You aren’t messing with any gimmick formats like the 24-team format that has been floating around that only aims to appease bubble teams and allows teams that have no business being in the playoffs (Montreal, Chicago, etc.) a chance they don’t deserve.
It also just might avoid that pesky asterisk that could end up figuratively engraved onto the Stanley Cup.