The NHL is still in indefinite suspension for the 2019-20 season, as is nearly everything else in the sports world (any Korean baseball fans out there yet?).
But this hasn’t stopped the NHL from discussing how they can salvage the hockey season. So far they have discussed everything from a neutral site continuation of the regular season, which would push the season well into late summer (and obviously affect the 2020-21 season), to ending the regular season early and hosting a truncated Stanley Cup Playoffs in late June or July.
Their latest plan is a unique and bold idea to end the regular season and then immediately host a 24-team Stanley Cup Playoff.
This comes from longtime NHL insider Larry Brooks of the New York Post, who has been at the forefront of the latest post-suspension plans by the league’s Return To Play committee.
While the format of the tournament was not fully explained, it sounds like the plan would include a best-of-three play-in round. Presumably this play-in round would be for the “last eight” teams on the playoff bubble, giving them a chance to get into the dance without having to play any more regular season games.
From there, the playoffs would probably look similar to previous years, though there has been discussions about making the opening round (in this case, the second round) a best-of-five series.
It’s a bold idea, for sure, and one that is more than likely driven by money. The NHL is not a gate-driven league, by any stretch. It thrives on TV and advertising money, mostly on the backs of the playoffs, which are always their highest rated games.
And if something like a 24-team playoff were to happen, what an event it could be.
NHL 24-team tourney would be wide open
Talk about “anything can happen in the playoffs” right?
Imagine if a team like the last place Chicago Blackhawks or the bottom-dwelling Anaheim Ducks get hot at the right time and run the table through a 24-team playoff structure. Or even a team like the Nashville Predators, who have had a very disappointing season, despite holding a playoff position on the day the league was suspended.
Could the Preds find a spark, navigate their way through a watered down playoff, and find a way to their second ever Stanley Cup Final appearance?
Perhaps more importantly, would we still view their championship the same as in other years? Probably not, but it would still be impressive to be better than 23 other teams in the playoffs, as opposed to the usual 15.
Who knows if something like this would actually happen… right now, we don’t even know if the league can return to play or when, so it’s still a long shot. But it it were to happen, a 24-team playoff would be unlikely to disappoint.
— Featured image via Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports —