The Montreal Canadiens were slated to miss the postseason for the third consecutive season. It is starting to sound like that won’t be the case, as the NHL is inching towards an expanded playoff format.
The Montreal Canadiens didn’t come close to the 2018 playoffs, finishing 28th out of the 31 NHL teams in the standings. It was an ugly year with Carey Price not playing well, Shea Weber being injured for a long period, Jonathan Drouin struggling to convert to centre ice and Max Pacioretty finally losing his scoring touch.
The Habs missed the playoffs again in 2019, but this time they didn’t look so bad. Max Domi arrived and looked great as a centre, Weber didn’t miss as many games, Price was much better, Drouin was improved after moving back to the wing and Tomas Tatar was excellent. It wasn’t quite enough though, as the Habs missed the postseason by two points.
This season’s playoff chase looked more like the 2018 fiasco and not the 2019 nail biter. When the NHL finally pressed pause in mid-March, the Canadiens were ten points out of the playoffs and were about two weeks removed from selling several assets at the trade deadline. Missing the playoffs for a third straight season was inevitable. It would have taken a miracle for the Montreal Canadiens to make the 2020 postseason.
Or, perhaps a global pandemic. The NHL continues to discuss the next steps to finish off the 2019-20 season and some of the scenarios thrown around seem odd, but might be the best solution. Starting back up like the league never stopped and finishing the regular makes little sense. The Detroit Red Wings are further from the playoffs than the Mighty Ducks were after the first hour of the movie. Bringing them back and putting them under quarantine for two weeks, then holding a three week training camp, then playing a couple of exhibition games, then finishing the regular season would take close to two months.
Why would a team that knows they are far from playoff contention want to come back for a handle of meaningless games?
So, the league has to get creative to come up with a new scenario. Any team that comes back and goes through all the protocols would have to have some sort of chance at the Stanley Cup at the end of all this madness. One possibility that seems to be getting really close to reality is a 24-team playoff.
According to Pierre LeBrun, of The Athletic, the NHL and the NHLPA Return to Play committee met throughout the weekend and progress was made on a 24-team format for returning to action. Nothing is guaranteed and no one is saying anything was 100% agreed upon yet, but all indications were the two sides were heading in the same direction with this 24-team format going forward.
This is huge news for fans of the Montreal Canadiens, as a 24-team playoff would include the Habs. They are currently 12th in the Eastern Conference and 24th in the NHL standings. Expanding the playoffs would mean the Habs do get in after all.
There is nothing finalized yet, which means we don’t know exactly what this format will look like, but LeBrun also mentions it would include some sort of games before a playoff is held, so teams would not be off for three months and then drop the puck on a playoff series.
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Although nothing is set in stone at this point, it certainly sounds like the Montreal Canadiens season is not over, and we will be seeing them take part in some sort of playoff action this summer. While they certainly didn’t earn it the old fashioned way, we might get to see some sort of Habs playoff hockey in the next few months for the first time in three years.