In the first part of this series, I suggested that the NHL end the 2019-20 season after the 68th game (the number of games played by every team at the time of The Great Pause of 2020.) Any games played beyond that would be disregarded, as would any points in the standings earned in those games.
In this column, we’ll explore how truncating the season to 68 games would affect the Western Conference playoff picture. (The Eastern Conference playoffs and qualifying teams under a 68-game format is the 2nd part of this series.)
At the time of The Pause, the Western Conference playoff standings look like this:
- St. Louis Blue (71 games/94 points)
- Colorado Avalanche (70 games/92 points)
- Dallas Stars (69 games/82 points)
- Vegas Golden Knights (71 games/80 points)
- Edmonton Oilers (71 games/83 points)
- Calgary Flames (70 games/79 points)
Current Wild Card Positioning
- Winnipeg Jets (71 games/80 points)
- Vancouver Canucks* (69 games/78 points)
- Nashville Predators* (69 games/78 points)
- Minnesota Wild (69 games/77 points)
* The Canucks and Predators have the same number of points in the standings and have played the same number of games, but Vancouver wins the tie-breaker, regulation wins in this case, 36 to 35.
The teams with a reasonable chance of earning a wild-card spot have played a different number of games. Five teams (including the Flames) are within three points of each other, but the number of games played ranges from 69 to 71.
If you need a refresher on the NHL’s playoff format, take a look here: Stanley Cup Playoffs format, qualification system. Here’s another chance to geek-out on clinching an NHL Playoff spot, that scholarly paper from Professors Tyrel Russell and Peter van Week of the University of Waterloo: Mathematically Clinching a Playoff Spot in the NHL and the Effect of Scoring Systems.
Standings After a 68-Game Schedule
- St. Louis: The Blues’ last three games are eliminated, a win over the Blackhawks, a loss to the Florida Panthers, and a win over the Anaheim Ducks, for a loss of four points in the standings, from 94 to 90.
- Colorado: The Avalanche drop two games, a loss to the Kings and an overtime win over the NY Rangers, losing two points, from 92 to 90.
- Vegas: The Knights say bye-bye to three games, a loss to the Jets, a win over the Flames, and an overtime win at Edmonton, and fall from 86 to 82 points.
- Edmonton: The Oilers also lose three games, a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, an overtime loss to the Golden Knights, and a loss to Winnipeg, dropping three points, from 83 to 80.
- Dallas: The Stars drop one game, a loss to the Rangers, so their points stay at 82.
- Winnipeg: The Jets played 71 games, so the last three games – all wins (over the Golden Knights, the Coyotes, and Oilers) – get scrapped and the Jets crash from 80 to 74 points.
- Calgary: The Flames played two extra games (70), so their win over Arizona and loss to Las Vegas are chopped off the schedule, dropping them from 79 to 77 points.
- Nashville: Only the last game, a win over the Montreal Canadiens, is eliminated and the Predators drop from 78 to 76 points.
- Vancouver: The Canucks drop one game, a shootout win over the New York Islanders, and slip from 78 to 76 points.
- Minnesota: The Wild also have one game trimmed from the schedule, an overtime win over Anaheim, dropping from 77 to 75 points.
1st Round Matchups After a 68-Game Regular Season: Western Conference
Colorado* (1st Central & 1st Western Conference) vs. Nashville** (2nd wild card)
Las Vegas (1st Pacific) vs. Vancouver** (1st wild card)
St. Louis* (2nd Central) vs. Dallas (3rd Central)
Edmonton (2nd Pacific) vs. Calgary (3rd Pacific)
* Colorado and St. Louis both finish with 90 points, but the Avalanche win the regulation wins tie-breaker 41 to 40.
** Nashville and Vancouver both finish with 76 points, but the Canucks win the regulation wins tie-breaker 36 to 34.
Changes to the 1st Round in the Western Conference:
Truncating the schedule wreaks havoc with the Western Conference Playoff picture. Instead of the Blues finishing first in the Central Division and playing the 2nd wild card, they drop to second in the division and play the Central’s #3 team, while Colorado jumps up to meet the last playoff seed.
Most significantly, Winnipeg drops from the 1st wild card out of the playoffs, as the Predators move into the 2nd wild-card spot. In fact, the only first-round Western Conference Playoff matchup that doesn’t change with the shortened schedule is the Oilers vs. Flames.
But Wait! 68 Games or 69 Games?
The fewest games played in the league was 68, but both those teams, the Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are in the Eastern Conference. The fewest games played in the Western Conference was 69, not 68. What if the western teams had their schedules truncated to 69 games rather than 68 games? Here’s how it shakes out (taking into account tie-breakers):
Playoff Matchups After a 69-Game Schedule for Western Conference Teams
St. Louis (1st Central & 1st Western Conference) vs. Nashville (2nd wild card)
Edmonton (1st Pacific) vs. Calgary (1st wild card)
Colorado (2nd Central) vs. Dallas (3rd Central)
Vegas (2nd Pacific) vs. Vancouver (3rd Pacific)
The changes are minor. All of the home teams remain the same, but the Blues and the Avalanche swap opponents in the 1st round. The seeding for later rounds would also change (depending, of course, on which teams win in the 1st round), with the Blues and Oilers winning their divisions, rather than the Avalanche and Golden Knights.
However, in a full 82-game schedule, each team plays the same number of games, regardless of conference. With that in mind, I will continue to advocate truncating the 2019-20 NHL regular season to 68 games for all teams.
In the final part of this series, I’ll look at the question of shortening the playoffs to ensure a reasonable offseason for all players. I’ll also examine the playoff matchups after a 68-game season, including my predictions for each 1st round series. And, just for fun, I’ll take a look at who would win some of the statistic-based awards.