The Montreal Canadiens were on pace to miss the playoffs this season. However, with the plan for the 2020 playoffs up in the air, one possibility would have two of the league’s oldest rivals meeting in the first round.
The Montreal Canadiens, by all accounts, did not have a very successful 2019-20 season leading up to the league pressing the pause button. They had two different losing streaks of eight games and were sitting ten points outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference when we last saw them play.
It has been a long two months of wondering what will happen next (if anything) in the National Hockey League. Countless possibilities have been kicked around since then, and though we are yet to actually see players on ice again, the league is working hard behind the scenes to find the best solution to finish out the season.
I don’t think we are going to see the league come back and finish out the regular season and then do a conventional postseason. It wouldn’t make sense to have the bottom teams go through the quarantine process to ensure they don’t have coronavirus, then work through a three week training camp, and then play their final ten or so games in the next three weeks, knowing all along they have zero chance at the playoffs.
This doesn’t make sense for the bottom teams like the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators and even Montreal Canadiens. What inventive would those players have to be under quarantine away from their families for eight week? I’m sure Carey Price would rather spend time with his family than go through eight weeks away from them so he can play a few meaningless games and then watch Cayden Primeau play a few because it is a good opportunity to give the young netminder a look.
So, this has led to plenty of speculation about what the league schedule is going to look like when we finally do see NHL action again. The latest scenario that has been laid out by Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts for Sportsnet, has the team considering going straight to a 24-team playoff.
In his 4th Thought, Friedman says it is his opinion that the league will be going to a 24-team playoff instead of finishing the regular season. This would mean the bottom seven teams in the standings would not have to return at all for meaningless games and can take part in the draft lottery instead.
What Friedman says in this column that jumped out to me, was instead of taking six teams from every division, the league would take the top 12 teams in each conference. In the east, this would mean seven teams qualify from the Metropolitan Division and just five from the Atlantic Division. To balance this out, he mentions moving the New York Rangers over to the Atlantic Division.
The Rangers currently sit tenth in the Eastern Conference, but they are 7th in the Metropolitan Division. So, if they slide over to take part in the Atlantic Division playoffs (like they did when they beat the Habs in the first round in 2017) it would balance out the conference. With their 79 points in 70 games, the Rangers would actually be ahead of the Canadiens and Florida Panthers in the standings.
So, the Atlantic Division would have the Boston Bruins at the top, followed in order by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens.
So, how do you run a playoff with six teams? Well, that is what the NFL has been doing for years. The top two teams get a bye to the next round, the third seed hosts the sixth seed and the fourth seed hosts the fifth team.
In this scenario, the Rangers would host the Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs would host the Montreal Canadiens. We haven’t seen the Canadiens and Maple Leafs play a playoff series since 1979. It would be a bit of a goofy situation with the Habs sitting 24th in league standings, but I think anyone would take it after this lengthy hiatus.
The Canadiens could do some damage in this potential series. The Habs were supposed to be conclude their season on April 4 against the Maple Leafs, but they would now have a chance to end the Leafs season. Montreal won all three contests against Toronto this season, and would surely give the Leafs all they could handle in a playoff series.
It would be a terrific opportunity for the league as well. Playing games with no fans in the stands would surely affect revenue in a negative way, but a playoff series involving the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs would give them the best chance of making the most possible revenue from tv advertising in Canada.
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This scenario is not set in stone and is far from a guarantee at this point. However, the possibility of a 24-team playoff would give the NHL a chance to be creative. One interesting thing they could do to maximize interest would be starting the playoffs with a Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs playoff series. Let’s hope this dream can become a reality this summer.