The NHL’s Return to Play Plan Stinks

As states and provinces begin to open up while still practicing social distancing guidelines, NHL teams and players are slowly becoming able to access team facilities. With the NHL looking for ways to finish the 2019-20 season, there have been plenty of ideas discussed. While they are all better than the initial thought that the season would be cancelled outright, the one that the NHL made an announcement about today has plenty of flaws to it.

First of all, I’m not a fan of a 24-team playoff. I realize this decision was partly based on money, and partly based on being fair to the teams that didn’t have a chance to make a late push for a playoff spot over the final 10 or so games of the regular season. However, it absolutely screws over the top teams in each conference that had already earned a playoff spot.

While teams 5-12 in each conference begin their playoffs with a best-of-5 play-in round, the top four teams will play to determine their seed. This means that the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins could potentially go into the playoffs as the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. But that could almost be better for them, because the #1 seed plays the winner of #8 vs. #9, while any upset in the playoff rounds could lead to a more favourable matchup for the #4 seed. For example, if the #12 seed beats #5 in the play-in round, then the first official playoff round would be #4 vs. #12. In my mind, the solution here would be to re-seed teams after the play-in round and I’m not quite sure why that isn’t being discussed. If we’re already changing the playoff format this year, then let’s go all out with it.

Other than that, there really isn’t much reason for the top seeds to try in their pre-playoff games. The risk of star players getting injured in those games outweighs the benefit of actually winning.

So while nothing seems ideal for the teams that are in the playoffs, the NHL also managed to make the Draft Lottery more complicated too. The seven teams that miss out on the playoffs this year will have the best odds at winning the lottery, with the Detroit Red Wings at 18.5%. However, the Ottawa Senators have the second and third-best odds since they own San Jose’s first-round pick, which means that technically the Senators have a 25% chance of winning the lottery. So far, everything is normal, right?

Well, here’s where shit gets wild. So the Draft Lottery will be on June 26th, before any proposed playoff action even starts. So to fill out the usually 15 spots in the lottery, there will be eight placeholders in addition to the seven non-playoff teams. These placeholders will represent the teams that got knocked out of the play-in round, and if any of the top three spots in the draft are awarded to one of these placeholders there will be a second phase of the Draft Lottery to determine which team will get that pick.

Get all that? Me neither. Basically, it sounds like a majority of teams are being rewarded with both a playoff spot and a shot at the #1 pick in the same season, while the dumpster fire teams like Detroit, Ottawa and Los Angeles could end of being screwed out of the only bright spot they had left this season.

There’s also the fact that, like it or not, there will be an asterisk next to whichever team wins the Stanley Cup this season (unless it’s the Bruins, because I make the rules here). This is far from a traditional Stanley Cup Playoff, and while there is no way to truly make everyone happy, it seems like this plan has created more issues than it has solved.

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