As both the NHL and the NHLPA inch closer to a resumption of the 2019-20 NHL season, the two sides appear to have agreed that a 24-team playoff format is the way to go. Not everyone is happy about it, but all 24 franchises that will be included have settled in on the idea that this is the way things are. For the Edmonton Oilers, they’re in, but they now have an extra hurdle ahead of them.
At the end of the day, the only way to become a consistent winner is to win the first time. If Edmonton is going to take another step closer to turning this franchise around, they have to get past a team that shouldn’t be in the conversation. It’s not fair, but it also presents the Oilers with an opportunity.
The Play-in Round: Advantage or Disadvantage?
Based on the way things are rumored to be structured, eight teams will receive byes during the play-in round. That includes four teams from the Eastern Conference and four from the Western Conference in Dallas, St. Louis, Vegas, and Colorado. What’s left are 16 teams that will need to win to stay in, among them, the Oilers. They are the top-seeded Western Conference play-in team.
** Update: As has been reported by Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski of EPSN on May 26:
Under the plan, the top four seeds in each conference, as determined by their standings points percentage when the regular season was paused on March 12, would receive byes through a round of best-of-five, play-in series featuring seeds 5 through 12. Those play-in series would determine which teams advance to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket, which would then have seven-game series.
Those top four teams in each conference won’t sit idly by. The format calls for these teams to face one another to remain sharp ahead of the next round of the playoffs — which had been a concern from the players. The top four teams would essentially play some form of a round-robin tournament that would reseed them before the round of 16. A final decision on that format will be made when the NHL signs off on it.
With that in mind, as shafted as the Oilers just got based on this new format, there are a couple of ways to look at this.
A Huge Disadvantage
On one hand, this is a huge disadvantage as the Oilers earned their way into the playoffs. Before the pause, they had a 93% chance to get in. Now, they’ll essentially have a 50% chance thanks to a play-in around against the Chicago Blackhawks.
With strong play and consistent success over the course of 71 games, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and his crew deserve to be in the conversation, regardless of the format. That some teams are now also in that conversation, when they don’t necessarily deserve to be there, is a bit of a slap in the face (or so many teams are arguing.)
Two clubs actually voted against the proposed format. One was the Tampa Bay Lightning who collectively thought it wasn’t right to include teams that didn’t originally make it. As Alex Killorn argued on behalf of his teammates, those teams now have a chance to upset clubs and boot them from the original-16 playoff format. Tampa Bay probably wasn’t talking specifically about the Chicago Blackhawks, but there’s no better example. Chicago shouldn’t be in a playoff conversation, What they should be in, is a conversation for the draft lottery.
The Blackhawks can now realistically boot the Oilers from the postseason if this format moves ahead.
A Possible Advantage
On the other hand, Edmonton should beat Chicago. The Blackhawks will get some healthy bodies back, but so will the Oilers and on paper, Edmonton is a far better squad and one that should win out in a five-game series. If that happens, the team will be nice and warm, and ready to roll into a series with the Dallas Stars.
If the proposed round-robin doesn’t do a sufficient job of warming teams up, this could pose issues for anyone who gets a bye. Players were concerned about entering their respective playoffs less than ready while play-in teams were nice a loose. If the Oilers roll past the Blackhawks, they’ll have confidence, be motivated and could roll over their next opponent as well.
Oilers Should Have a Chip on Their Shoulder
Oiler fans can only hope this new approved format angers a couple of the best hockey players in the world. If it does, from there, the hope is that those players share that frustration in the locker room and Edmonton comes out with a point to prove.
If McDavid and Draisaitl watched Netflix’s The Last Dance and took a little something from the way Michael Jordan psyched himself up for any game where he felt slighted, the Blackhawks are in trouble. This new format is almost the perfect storm.
And, if McDavid and Draisaitl take it upon themselves to destroy players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, this could be fun to watch.
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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