Winners and Losers of the 24 Team Playoff Format
Written by Raffi Sarrafian
Just over a week ago Gary Bettman spoke to the hockey community about the NHL resumption plan that would be occurring. One subject he brought up was announcing that there would be a 24 team playoff to determine who wins the Stanley Cup. This decision was agreed upon between Bettman and the players’ association in a 29-2 vote with the only teams to veto being the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Carolina Hurricanes. With the play-in and round robin matchups being announced, there have been many takes on who won or lost in this passed return to play plan.
New York Rangers: This format couldn’t have worked out any better for the Rangers. The Rangers were red hot throughout the months of February and March, and looked poised to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 season. When the league shut down, the Rangers were just barely out of the playoffs which at the time was awful luck for them. Luckily with the new playoff format, the Rangers get their chance to make the playoffs as they play against the Carolina Hurricanes who they beat in all of their matchups this season. If the Rangers recapture the fire they had before the season was put on pause, they could be poised to make a deep playoff run this season. Hopefully the Rangers will finally reward Hendrik Lundqvist for his time and commitment with the franchise with the greatest trophy in hockey, the Stanley Cup.
Vegas Golden Knights: There were many winners that won’t be mentioned in this article, but Vegas stood out not for a second life in the playoffs, but for getting value for players they traded for at the deadline. Around the trade deadline, the Vegas Golden Knights pulled off 2 huge trades to bolster their roster for a deep cup run. By acquiring Alec Martinez from the LA Kings and Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks, Vegas looked like a lock to make it to at least the conference finals in the weaker pacific side of the bracket. 3 weeks later, the NHL shut down the season, and it looked like Vegas traded their assets away for no reason as their newly acquired players wouldn’t be able to help the Knights go deep into the playoffs. The 24 team playoff helps Vegas because they have a bye in the playoffs already, and they can use the huge assets they picked up at the deadline to help Vegas reach a whole new level of hockey. The 24 team playoff made sure this season wouldn’t get trashed, and with the potential Vegas has, there’s a strong chance they enter the playoffs red hot and attempt to win their first cup in franchise history.
Columbus Blue Jackets: After a stunning first round win vs the Presidents’ Trophy winners Tampa Bay Lighting, the Blue Jackets had a lot to celebrate about. That celebration went sour after they lost stars Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky to free agency only 2 months later. The Blue Jackets were expected to be a bottom feeder this season, and with a lack of experience at goaltending, there wasn’t too much hype surrounding Columbus entering the 2019-2020 season. However, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins stepped up for Columbus this season in net while Cam Atkinson and Gustav Nyquvist made sure Columbus had plenty of offense throughout the season. Their first pair on defense also was spectacular with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski producing offense, but also playing stellar on defense. There was suddenly a lot of optimism surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets in the wild card hunt until they lost Seth Jones, Josh Anderson, and Joonas Korpisalo for long term in January and February. All 3 players' regular seasons were likely over and for Seth Jones and Josh Anderson, there was a high chance they’d miss the playoffs due to their injuries. Thanks to the season being put on pause the Columbus Blue Jackets will likely have all of their injuries wiped off the books, and will enter their play-in matchup vs the Toronto Maple Leafs fresh and ready to go. The bracket kept Columbus in the playoff hunt, while also giving them the time to get some of their best players healthy and back at 100% before the season resumes.
Boston Bruins: The Boston Bruins were on a tear for the whole NHL season before the season was put on pause, as they were the only team with 100 + points in the league. With the elite first line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak, Boston looked poised to have another deep run in the playoffs come April. However, with the season being paused for 2 months, there’s questions on whether or not the Bruins will regain the fire they had during the regular season once the playoffs kick off for them. The Bruins didn’t have any bearing injuries down the stretch of the season making this situation Boston is in seem even worse than most teams. Probably the worst part for the Bruins is they will have to play 3 round robin games with the other 3 teams with byes in the east (Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Washington), to determine the seeding of the four teams. This is awful for Boston who had the top spot in the Eastern Conference likely on lock towards the end of the season.
Edmonton Oilers: At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers looked as if they were finally ready to contend for a playoff spot and possibly slide into one of the 2 wild card spots in the Western Conference. The Oilers exceeded that expectation with 83 points in 71 games, which was enough before the league shut down for the 2nd seed in the Pacific Division. Having Connor McDavid and especially Leon Draistatl who were having another stellar season only bolstered Edmonton’s chances of a cup run, but the COVID-19 crisis said otherwise. The Edmonton Oilers, instead of having a playoff spot locked, will have to play an underdog Blackhawks team in a play-in series to make the playoffs. The worst part about this for Edmonton is the fact that the night before the league shut down, they lost to the Winnipeg Jets, putting them right behind the Dallas Stars for a bye into the playoffs. The Oilers take on the Blackhawks in the play-ins now with hope to make it into the playoffs and make a championship run at their first Stanley Cup since the Gretzky ages.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes came into this season with the same fire as last year and once again started off their season hot. However, with losing Dougie Hamilton for the rest of the regular season, as well as having other injuries on defense and in net, the Hurricanes struggled to stay hot throughout the season. Before the season pause, Carolina was just in the playoffs, and it looked like they were likely going to hold a wild card spot until the playoffs began. Rather than having that security, the Hurricanes will have to win a play-in series to make the playoffs, and with Dougie Hamilton and the rest of Carolina’s players getting back to 100%, there was optimism that the Hurricanes would easily make it through the play-in matchup and make it into the playoffs. However, they now have to go up against the red hot New York Rangers, who were sitting out of the playoffs by a point before the season stopped. Now the Hurricanes will have to go through them to get into the playoffs. It makes sense why Jordan Martinhook rejected the 24 team playoff format because it takes away the Hurricanes playoff spot that they held onto, and now in the new format they have to go up against one of the best teams out of all of the play-in teams.