[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]
The NHL and NHLPA agreed to some key details to how the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will operate … assuming the playoffs can happen. We now know how the league will handle the Round Robin for Seeding, Qualifying Round, all the way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Before we go round by round, note that the biggest takeaways are that the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will involve re-seeding (not bracketing) and that every round will include a best-of-seven series after the Qualifying Round/Round Robin for Seeding.
In other words, if this all comes to pass, prepare for a lot of hockey.
How the NHL Playoffs will work through 2020 Stanley Cup Final
Let’s review what we know so far.
Qualifying Round; Round Robin for Seeding
- As announced earlier, each Qualifying Round (four per conference) series will go by a best-of-five format. Read more about that format here.
- Johnston reports that the Round Robin for Seeding will involve three games each per team. Points percentage will serve as a tiebreaker if needed during the Round Robin for Seeding.
It was first believed that teams who won Qualifying Round series would face specific opponents based on bracketing. Instead, re-seeding means that the highest seeds will face the lowest seeds all the way down to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Here’s how “home ice” will work out, via the NHL:
* In the Qualifying Round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.
2020 NHL Playoffs: First Round through the 2020 Stanley Cup Final
To reiterate, following the Qualifying Round (best-of-five) and Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece), each series will be a best-of-seven, with re-seeding. It might be easier to see how it flows this way, then:
- Qualifying Round (best-of-five series, four series per conference); Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece, top four teams in each conference involved). Re-seeding instead of bracketing.
- First Round (best-of-seven series, four series per conference). Teams re-seed after First Round.
- Second Round (best-of-seven series, two series per conference). Teams re-seed after Second Round.
- 2020 Eastern Conference Final (best-of-seven series) and 2020 Western Conference Final (best-of-seven series).
Via the NHL, here’s how “home-ice” will play out before the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:
* In the First Round, Second Round and Conference Finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.
- 2020 Stanley Cup Final (best-of-seven series).
Finally, the league shared this “home-ice” info for the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:
* In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6
NHL, NHLPA opt for more hockey approach
Before Thursday, some expected that the First Round, and possibly the Second Round, might instead be best-of-five series. Instead, the NHL and NHLPA opted to go longer.
Johnston captures the risk part of that risk-reward scenario quite well, noting that two extra best-of-seven rounds could add nine days to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that the playoff tournament could last as long as 68 days. That requires some big gambles that COVID-19 cases won’t spike to the point that the NHL needs to go on “pause” once more.
The "integrity" of the playoffs was prioritized with this decision. It was important to the players. But the entire playoff tournament could last 68 days, which might pose challenges if a second wave of coronavirus hits in the fall.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 4, 2020
If it all works out, then the “integrity” of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is definitely emphasized. (Also, more best-of-seven series definitely strengthens the “toughest ever” arguments.) Few can credibly say they’ve been robbed of a real chance, given that 24 teams are involved.
We’ll have to wait and see if it’s all worth it, and if the NHL can actually pull this off. Personally, re-seeding seems fair if it doesn’t lead to additional travel, while the bevy best-of-seven series seems dicey.
Naturally, the NHL and NHLPA still need to hash out other details.
Keep in mind, this is just the format agreement. Still to come are Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (games/hubs/protocol) which still have to be negotiated. Only preliminary talks so far on those fronts.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 4, 2020
MORE ON NHL RETURN TO PLAY:
- Breaking down the Eastern Conference series
- A look at the Western Conference playoff matchups
- Which Qualifying Round series would be the most exciting?
- Top Qualifying Round storylines