Up to this point in the coronavirus pause, the NHL has maintained that their goal is to stage regular season games that remain on the schedule. The hope was that they could finish an 82-game campaign, even with a long break in the middle, in order to determine the playoff standings like any other year. Now, it seems as though that focus has shifted. Both Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet and Larry Brooks of the New York Post have written today about a potential 24-team playoff instead of any regular season matches. Friedman lists it as a personal opinion, while Brooks has more firm reporting from sources on “both sides of the aisle,” meaning the NHL and NHLPA.
Brooks reports that the playoffs would include a “best-of-three play-in round” though the rest of the format is not clear. Both reporters list reasons why the league is headed that way, including the understanding that players do not want to be quarantined away from their families for several months.
While there is obviously no concrete plan of action at this point, moving directly into the playoffs does seem to be the most prudent course of action if the 2019-20 campaign is to be resumed at all. There are so many complications that will have to be sorted out before players are even allowed to practice again, that removing a third of the league would only help things along.
The teams that would be eliminated in this scenario, according to both scribes, are the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils.
Those are the teams most interested in a draft lottery (sorry San Jose) as well, given they reside at the bottom of the standings. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet has an update on that too, tweeting that momentum has slowed regarding a June draft. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Johnston that “everything is still on the table.”
Several managers have spoken out against the idea of holding a draft before the conclusion of the season, including Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals who told Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside of The Athletic (subscription required) that “most of the managers would like it to happen in a natural order.”