The Montreal Canadiens were well outside the playoff picture when the NHL paused its schedule. Rumours are circulating that the Habs could be involved in an expanded playoff bracket.
The Montreal Canadiens were not in the playoff chase as the season began to wind down and the trade deadline had passed. The Habs were clear sellers at the deadline, moving out Ilya Kovalchuk, Marco Scandella, Nick Cousins, Nate Thompson and Matthew Peca for draft picks, basically shipping out any player with value that was on an expiring contract.
They were obviously waving the white flag and knew they were not going to be participating in the 2020 NHL postseason. When the league finally pressed pause in the middle of March, the Canadiens were ten points back of the final playoff position and had a microscopic chance of going on a miracle run to qualify for the postseason.
However, that was before the NHL went on hiatus and now everything has changed. We haven’t seen an NHL game in two months and when the league does return, we won’t see them pick up where they left off, finish the regular season schedule, and run a normal playoff.
Nope, normal is now out of the lexicon for the NHL. They want to return to action sometime this summer and award a Stanley Cup champion this year. In order to do that, they are going to have to get creative. There have been countless different possibilities thrown around and some even include the Canadiens.
The most recent rumours, coming from Pierre LeBrun of TSN and Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, and mentioned by Bob McKenzie on TSN Radio, have the league looking at a 24-Team playoff. Those are three of the most dialled in insiders in the game of hockey, so when they are all on basically the same page, you know they are on to something.
In this most recent scenario that is being thrown around, there would be two hub cities that host 12 teams each. The Eastern Conference hub would have the top 12 teams in the conference gathered in one city and would award byes to the top four teams in the conference, while the next eight teams would face each other in Best-of-3 or Best-of-5 play-in series.
In the east, that would mean the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers would automatically advance to the 16-team playoffs. The other four teams that would join them would be decided by play-in series. The 5th seed would play the 12th seed, the 6th would play the 11th, 7th vs 10th and 8th vs 9th.
The Canadiens, who had 71 points in 71 games this season, are the 24th ranked team in The NHL and the 12th ranked team in the Eastern Conference. Under this scenario, they would return to action and face the Pittsburgh Penguins in a short play-in series.
Here is a graphical look at the brackets…. pic.twitter.com/7w3xSh6ZTy
— Andy Graziano (@AndyGraz_WFAN) May 21, 2020
The winner of that series would advance to the more familiar 16-team playoff and they would take on the Philadelphia Flyers. It is definitely an odd format, but there is no perfect way to close out the 2019-20 season. Bringing back 16 teams would not be fair to those that were just outside the playoffs with a dozen games left to play. So, the league is looking to include any team that had the most remote chance of getting into the postseason.
That means the 24th seeded Habs will have a far greater chance, as they would only have to beat the Penguins in a short series to get into the “real playoffs.” The Habs did okay against the Pens this season, winning one game, losing in a shootout and then losing in regulation in their meeting.
Of course, those games may as well have taken place a decade ago. The 2020 postseason is not going to be a predictable event with teams having three or more months off before getting back to action. That gives the Habs a decided advantage from where they sat in the standings on March 13. Instead of having almost no chance of qualifying for the postseason, they are two or three wins against the Penguins away from a matchup with the Flyers in the first round.
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Nothing is set in stone, and there are no guarantees in the sports world these days. However, with so many insiders on the same page with this format, it sounds like the Montreal Canadiens have a far better chance of making the 2020 postseason today than they did when we last saw them on the ice.