The Philadelphia Flyers do not know when their next game will be. The same goes for the rest of the NHL. If you have not heard by now, the NHL decided Thursday afternoon to suspend the rest of its season due to the spread of the coronavirus.
In the NHL’s official statement above, the NHL said that it hopes to “resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”
This could mean a number of different things. The most optimistic interpretation is that the NHL will be on hiatus until it figures out a way to safely resume play, at which point the season will continue as planned. Meanwhile, the most pessimistic interpretation is that the 2019-20 season will just end. That would make this the first time since the 2004-05 season that there will be no Stanley Cup champion.
Nonetheless, there is a more neutral, and possibly even more realistic, interpretation out there. That is, by the time it is safe for the NHL to resume play, it would jump straight to the playoffs. The reasoning is that there would not be enough time to play the remaining 15 percent of the regular season and the playoffs without impacting the offseason and the start of next season.
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Such a plan would require that the playoff teams be determined in a fair manner. Simply using current points as the determining factor would not be fair, as some teams have played more games than others. Instead, a points percentage system has been proposed. This would give playoff spots to the teams that have accrued the greatest percentage of total possible points.
Impact of Points Percentage System on the Flyers
In short, this would have no impact on the Flyers’ current playoff positioning. The Flyers have 89 points, which is second in the Metropolitan Division. As they have played 69 games, their points percentage is .645 (they have scored 89 out of 138 possible points). Their points percentage is also second in the division.
Therefore, under this plan, the Flyers would earn the second seed in the division. They would then play the third seed in the division in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The third seed would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, based on current points or points percentage.
In fact, every potential Eastern Conference playoff team would retain their current seeding, except for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Though the Blue Jackets have one more point than do the New York Islanders, the Islanders have two games in hand. Therefore, the Islanders have a better points percentage, meaning they would earn the second wild-card spot over the Blue Jackets.
This would only affect the Flyers if both the Flyers and the Islanders win their first-round series. In that case, the teams would potentially meet up in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
One Other Factor to Consider
In the last section, I said that this playoff system would not affect the Flyers’ current positioning. Nonetheless, it could very well impact the Flyers’ potential future playoff positioning.
Prior to the stoppage of play, the Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They had won nine of their last 10 games and were just one point below the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the division. Meanwhile, the Capitals had recently struggled and were just 4-3-3 in their last 10 games.
Therefore, it was possible that the Flyers could have overtaken the Capitals in the standings. This would have shaken up the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Had the Flyers won the division, they would have played one of the wild card teams in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Depending on the opponent, the Flyers could have had an easier matchup than they would have had with the Penguins, who would not have been a wild card team.
Still, the Flyers were in the midst of a challenging stretch of the schedule. There was no guarantee that they would have come out of this stretch atop the division.
At the end of the day, given that they got off to a slow start this season, the Flyers would surely be happy just to make the playoffs, regardless of opponent. Now, we will just have to wait and see if they get this chance.