Obviously we have to preface every one of these pieces by saying no one really has any idea if the NHL can, and eventually will, come back to try and finish the 2019-20 campaign in some fashion. All we can do is talk in hypothetical and speculate on what things might look like based on what plans are being hashed out behind the scenes.
With that said, information does continue to spill out, so let’s take a look at the latest potential return scenario and how it would affect the Leafs.
There’s been a lot of speculation about whether the league should even try to finish its regular season. Is there really any point to assemble teams who have nothing left to play for? Apparently the league is starting to lean towards not bringing them back. According to Larry Brooks of the NYPost, who surely has friends at the league office, it’s most likely the league instead goes right into a 24-team tournament with sort of a pre-playoffs and then the more typical structure.
The dynamic changes by the day, if not by the hour, but sources on both sides of the aisle have told The Post that the NHL’s reopening plan has shifted from completing the 2019-20 regular season to instead staging a 24-team tournament that would include a best-of-three play-in round.
Now, others have speculated on what this would look like in terms of who is seeded where. It goes without saying that 12 teams on each side of the aisle doesn’t work out neatly to two finalists, so there are going to be teams who get Bye Weeks and others who have to play themselves in. Perhaps the best information we’ve seen out there to this point is leaning towards the top four in each conference getting a bye through the first “play-in” round, and the rest matching up in 3-of-5 series’ to round get the honour of moving on to face those top teams.
Here’s how that would probably look in the Eastern Conference, based on points percentage:
Bye through play-in round: Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, Flyers
(5) Penguins versus (12) Canadiens
(6) Panthers versus (11) Islanders
(7) Rangers versus (10) Hurricanes
(8) Leafs versus (9) Blue Jackets
It’s funny, the Leafs, Rangers, and Jackets all have the exact same points-percentage (.521) and games played (70) but we’d have to assume if this is straight conference seeding, the Rangers get placed highest with the most regulation wins.
We don’t need to get too far into how this would look, where it would be played, and so on. Everything in that realm is obviously still far up in the air, but we do have another tidbit of information that the league is telling some staff and players behind the scenes to get ready to isolate in hotels at the four main venues starting at the beginning of July, with the games starting three weeks later. The thinking is that each of these venues (of which Edmonton and Toronto are likely to be included in) will run three games a day from that point on. No fans in attendance, of course.
So yeah, there you have it. Something to potentially get excited about or not at all! It’s Leafs versus Jackets, maybe. Or it could be the Rangers. Best of three, perhaps. In Toronto? Probably not. Who knows?
Go Leafs go!