With both the regular season and playoffs up in the air for quite some time, there had been many questions about conditional draft picks and how they might be conveyed. However, now with the establishment of a 24-team playoff format, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (subscription required) reports that the league has also clarified how conditional picks will change hands, meaning teams will have to reach the round of 16 in order to be considered a ’playoff team.’ The NHL doesn’t view the qualifying round as playoff hockey.
“More specifically, for Trade condition purposes, a Club will not be deemed to have qualified for the Playoffs unless or until they have progressed into the Round of 16, and ‘Playoff Games/Rounds’ will only include the games/rounds played in the Round of 16 or later. We believe this interpretation will best reflect the intentions of the parties at the time of the Trade,” the league stipulated.
There are several trades that fall into this category with the Vancouver Canucks pick being at the heart of the issue. The Canucks traded their 2020 first-round pick to Tampa Bay for J.T. Miller, conditional on the Canucks making the playoffs. That pick, in the meantime, was traded to New Jersey for Blake Coleman. With Vancouver in the 24-team playoff format, many believed that the Devils already had the Canucks’ first-round pick. However, this ruling indicates that the Canucks would have to win their play-in game against the Minnesota Wild first and reach the round of 16 before that picks transfers. If Vancouver loses in the first round, then they keep the lottery pick and will send a unconditional first-rounder in 2021 to New Jersey.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild are in a similar situation with the first-round pick that was sent from Pittsburgh to Minnesota for Jason Zucker (assuming the Penguins got into the playoffs). However, while that pick looked to be a lock, a play-in loss to the Montreal Canadiens would allow the Penguins to keep the pick and send an unconditional one in 2021, which Pittsburgh would be likely to do if they can get a lottery pick in a strong draft.
There are still a few conditional trades that the NHL will have to look deeper into, including the Edmonton/Calgary swap of Milan Lucic and James Neal as well as the New Jersey-Carolina swap of Sami Vatanen, which deals with a conditional fourth-round pick if Vatanen played in five regular season games for Carolina, which he didn’t do. However, the play-in games could constitute regular season games, depending on how the league rules on it.