NHL: The morning after the pucks thawed, what’s next?

Yesterday, the NHL joined a host of other major sports leagues to announce the suspension of play due to the Coronavirus. Today, we deal with the aftermath and trying to understand what this means for the game. In truth, nothing can be known until it can be determined when the game can resume. Other factors, aside from time is arena availability for some teams. However, unlike a lockout, all events in all venues had to be cancelled and rescheduled so this should be workable. And while others view this pessimistically, I see an amazing opportunity for the NHL on the horizon.

“I’m a little hesitant to use the word suspension, because our hope and our expectation is, when things get back to normal and it’s safe and it’s prudent, that we can go back and resume the season and ultimately have the Stanley Cup awarded.”

Gary Bettman

Rumors on what’s next

As expected, and even before the announcement to postpone had settled in, rumors about how to return started to leak. One such rumor came from an anonymous player from a team on the cusp of a playoff spot.

At the time of suspension, no team has played more than 71 games and no team has played less than 68. The league could return to a 2 week primer before the playoffs and finish with either a 76 or 78 game regular season if scheduling permits.

Ideas on how to resume

If the league opts to just go into the playoffs with no additional regular season games, then they would likely need to go with points percentage. That would put the Hurricanes and Islanders in the East and the Predators and Flames in the West. That idea has a lot of owners and GM’s rumored to be livid. Cusp teams want a fighting chance.

Last night, Elliotte Friedman proposed using the same Pts% system to have either a one game or two game tournament for the last two wild card spots in each conference. He states an owner actually gave him the idea. The problem, just to keep it local, the Panthers would be playing in it over the Rangers thanks to .001 points. Mind you, the Panthers have 1 less point in the standings.


NHL’s Great Opportunity

The fair way to do this is to return to a shortened regular season of 76 games and let the chips fall where they may. But if this postponement goes over 30 days, the NHL will be forced to jump into the playoffs. So how about 2 playoffs?

Similar to Friedman’s proposal allow the top 4 teams in wild card reach in each conference battle it out. That’s easy to say in the West where Minnesota is 3 points up on Arizona and played one less game. In the East it gets interesting because the Panthers and Rangers are separated by 1 point and 1 game for that 4th spot. So let them play a 1 game playoff for it.

Once that is settled, have 1 play 4 and 2 play 3 in a one game showdown for the two wild card spots and the right to play in the Stanley Cup. The winner of each game gets in. This could all be done within 2 days, and 1 venue if needed. To me, if you eliminate the regular season, this is the only fair way to decide it.

While sports is secondary when it comes to fighting this pandemic, hope and something to look forward to also has a great impact on health. The NHL could be forced to eliminate the entire regular season, and even have to turn the first 2 rounds into a best of 5. One silver lining would be to implement the wild card playoffs I just proposed. It’s a great opportunity to generate excitement for a sport that will need it.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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