The NHL’s Return to Play committee continues to discuss options for squeezing the Stanley Cup Playoffs into this summer’s truncated sports schedule. And while it’s probably still over a month away, the league’s idea of having a 24-team playoff seems to be getting the most traction.

But what would this playoff actually look like? And who would the Nashville Predators end up facing in the first round?

NHL Insider’s Chris Johnston and Elliotte Friedman, both with Sportsnet, revealed the most likely format yesterday. It should be pointed out that nothing is set in stone and the league could go a different direction if the situation with COVID-19 changes.

The format would look like this:

  • A 24-team playoff with the top 12 teams (ranked by points percentage, not total points) from each conference automatically making the tournament.
  • The top four seeds in each conference would have first round byes. This would be Boston, Tampa, Washington, and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas in the West.
  • The remaining seeds in each conference would be “bracketed” meaning 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9 and would play a “best-of-five” series.
  • Following the first round, the winners would move on to face their bracketed corresponding seed (winner of 8 vs 9 would go on to face 1 seed, for example) in a “best-of-seven” series.

Based on points percentage, the Nashville Predators (the 6 seed) would take on the Arizona Coyotes (11 seed) in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a best of five series. The winner would take on the Vegas Golden Knights (the 3 seed) in the next round in a best of seven series.

NHL Nashville Predators
Via @puck_report2

This is a rather unlikely opponent for the Preds, given where each team stood when the league suspended play. At that point, the two most likely first round opponents for the Preds were the Colorado Avalanche (15.1% chance) and the Vegas Golden Knights (15.0%). There was less than a tenth of a percent chance of meeting the Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs.

Of course, things changed dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The suspension of the regular season and the altered playoff format makes any playoff matchup a possibility.

Preds and Coyotes not unfamiliar

If the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes were to meet in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be the first time, nor will it likely be the last. The two teams met in 2012 in the second round, with the Coyotes beating the Preds in five games. And with the rumored re-structuring of the NHL’s divisions, it seems likely that the Coyotes and Preds will soon be Central Division rivals, which could lead to more future first round matchups.

The Preds and Coyotes split their season series (their March 28th game was cancelled) at one game apiece. The Coyotes won 5-2 in Arizona on October 17th and the Preds won 3-2 in Nashville on December 23rd.

Again, this rumored format is hardly solidified. The Return to Play committee is reportedly meeting with the NHLPA on Thursday to discuss several things, including this playoff idea. That conversation could determine if this Preds vs. Coyotes matchup is a reality or just a pipe dream.

— Featured image via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports —
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