As first reported by Elliotte Friedman, rumors inside of league offices are that the NHL favors returning to play with a new 24-team playoff format in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The plan is not yet final, but the consensus seems to be building for the format which would provide the top four teams in each conference with a bye, and allow the 5th-12th seeds to compete in a Best-of-Five play-in round.
There are still plenty of logistics to work out before a return is possible, including the COVID testing parameters, selection of potential hub cities to host the matchups, and how to handle VISA and immigration issues for travel between the US and Canada, but at least for now there are some signs of optimism that the playoffs will return this summer.
As currently speculated, the Eastern Conference teams receiving the bye would be the Boston Bruins (1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2), Washington Capitals (3) and Philadelphia Flyers (4). The Western Conference teams would be the St. Louis Blues (1), Colorado Avalanche (2), Las Vegas Golden Knights (3) and Dallas Stars (4). Each of those teams would compete in a Best-of-Seven round against the winners of the following playoff matchups:
- PITTSBURGH (5) VS MONTREAL (12)
- CAROLINA (6) VS NY RANGERS (11)
- NY ISLANDERS (7) VS FLORIDA (10)
- TORONTO (8) VS COLUMBUS (9)
- EDMONTON (5) VS CHICAGO (12)
- NASHVILLE (6) VS ARIZONA (11)
- VANCOUVER (7) VS MINNESOTA (10)
- CALGARY (8) VS WINNIPEG (9)
While these details could change, there are some clear winners and losers from the format. Perhaps nobody is a bigger winner than the Chicago Blackhawks or Montreal Canadians. The Canadians were 10-points out of the race in the East and on the path to being mathematically eliminated, while the Blackhawks were 6-points back in the west, and chasing four teams.
Both DraftKings and Fanduel have pulled down NHL Futures betting markets for the Stanley Cup as of this writing, while PointsBet has left the markets open. The Blackhawks (200-1) and Canadians (300-1) are longshots to win but offer a fair bit of value at those prices. When you consider that the next closest teams are the Jets (60-1) and Panthers (60-1) it is clear that PointsBet hasn’t yet updated their odds to reflect this potential change in schedule.
Some of the bigger losers in this format include the Toronto Maple Leafs (25-1), Pittsburgh Penguins (13-1), and Edmonton Oilers (18-1). Each of these teams were heavily favored to advance to the playoffs but will now be tasked with playing in an additional Best-of-Five series. Even if they are -200 favorites in the series, their odds have been slashed by the additional matchup.