Memorial day without playoff hockey was strange. In fact, the months of April and May without playoff hockey has made quarantine surreal. With an uncompleted season, it seemed as if the coronavirus killed hockey. But, while the hopes of seeing the Stanley cup raised in 2020 slowly diminished, the NHLPA announced they have reached an agreement for a 24-team playoff tournament.
If further negotiations pass and the government restrictions permit, this would be huge for hockey. Let me repeat: HUGE. The NHL is America’s least popular league in the big four (NFL, MLB, NBA). By going along with this plan the NHL would be the only sport to watch. This will attract a whole new audience as new watchers will be drawn to the game. Additionally, the 24 team tournament adds a nice spin to the traditional playoff bracket. With the regular season incomplete, teams who were not sitting in a playoff spot on March 11 could have made a push to the postseason. The 24-team tournament allows exactly that. By taking the top twelve teams from each conference (instead of division) teams that were getting hot before the suspension now have a shot at the cup. Adding more teams also allows the NHL to hit the bigger markets of cities like New York, Chicago, and Montreal.
The format of the new style is simple. The top four teams in each conference will receive a bye while the other 16 battle it out to make it to the traditional playoff format. While this is a great idea because it allows us to have more hockey it does have its flaws. Firstly, as Matt Duchene put it “You don’t want to have the COVID Cup.” The team that does eventually win the Stanley Cup this year will receive a bunch of backlash no matter what. Haters will say it doesn’t count because it was a shortened season and the team does not deserve it. I agree with Matt Duchene’s statement however unfortunately the NHL can’t allow the rest of the season to play out along with the playoffs. The teams that voted against the new format believe it is flawed for a different reason. Both the Tampa bay lightning and Carolina hurricanes voted no. This was two high caliber teams that sat in playoff spots when the season came to a halt. Both Tampa and Carolina believe this format is favored towards the lower sided teams. While both teams worked hard to be in the top sixteen the NHL is expanding it to 24. Carolina voted no because it hurts there odds compared to a regular 16 playoff bracket. They really must be scared of the King, the breadman, and there New York Rangers. Tampa also believes it favors the lower seeded teams. While they are idling around playing friendly games against the other teams that got a bye, the lower seeded teams are getting some good playoff hockey, therefore, making them more prepared than the elites of the conference.
While it is clear the new style is not perfect it is the best the NHL can do given the situation. With players well-rested during quarantine, this can be some of the best hockey we’ve ever seen.