If the Canadiens can’t reach the playoffs, have the playoffs reach the Canadiens.
Under normal circumstances the above statement would be met with laughter and ridicule.
In case you haven’t noticed, these are not normal circumstances.
According to every credible source in the hockey world, the NHL has proposed to the NHLPA a 24-team playoff format for whenever the season resumes. The NHLPA needs to vote on the format, and we should get the results tonight or tomorrow. This format was chosen in order to include teams that were fighting for a playoff spot when the season paused. However, in order to get a nice round number that works for playoffs, the NHL had to include 24 teams. This allows the draft-lottery-bound Montreal Canadiens to just squeak in, sitting at 24th overall.
How Does This Format Work?
I can only tell you how the NHL proposed it; the NHLPA may want to make additional changes that could render this explanation out of date. Anyway, here goes:
The top 12 teams from each conference would make the playoffs. The top four teams from each conference would receive a “bye” and play each other for seeding. The other sixteen teams would participate in a best-of-five “play-in” round. The winner of each matchup in the play-in round would advance to the regular four-round playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, the following four teams would get a bye: The Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals, and the Philadelphia Flyers. The “play-in” matchups would be:
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers
In the Western Conference, the following four teams would get a bye: the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars. The “play-in” matchups would be:
Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
An interesting note is that there will not be re-seeding after the play-in round. That is to say, if Montreal beats Pittsburgh, they will face the #4 seed rather than the #1 seed.
Reactions Throughout the Hockey World
Obviously, with any idea come people who despise it. The NHL originally proposed a best-of-three play-in round, but the players shot down that idea and the league went with best of five. Why? They didn’t like the idea of facing a rested Carey Price in a best of three, because he could easily steal two games for the Canadiens. Much of the online world scoffed at this reasoning, because Price has been inconsistent this season. However, Canadiens fans will know that much of his struggles come from overuse, and after a few months’ rest Carey Price would be in vintage form. A lot of people don’t like the idea of the Canadiens being in the playoffs, but it is only possible to have extended playoffs with 24 teams, mathematically. So those complainers will have to put a sock in it. What really surprised me was the number of Habs fans who didn’t like the idea of being denied a high draft pick in order to participate in the playoffs. While I am okay with playoffs or a top-ten pick, I would like to know what you, the reader, thinks. Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below. Please respect others’ opinions, even if you disagree with them.
How Would the Canadiens Do?
I’m usually an optimist, but I don’t know how the Canadiens would get by the Penguins. The Penguins have a statistical advantage in every category except for puck possession. Their special teams have the capability to burn the Canadiens, and they might get a healthy Jake Guentzel back in the lineup. The x-factor in this series would be Carey Price. If he plays up to his highest level of play, this series evens out quite a bit. The Canadiens would get key players Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin back in the lineup, which would add some punch to the offence, but I think that Pittsburgh would pull off the win in the end. I also though that Tampa Bay would steamroll the Blue Jackets in the first round last year, and boy, was I wrong. It’s very hard to predict the playoffs. I would be happy to watch a thrilling series between two storied franchises.
Nothing is set in stone yet, so we’ll have to see how this plays out. I’m fairly certain about one thing: The Canadiens will be in some sort of playoffs this season. Who would have thought?
Stay safe, everyone.
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo