One of the possibilities facing the St. Louis Blues, if the NHL re-starts its season, is jumping into the playoffs, but with 20 total teams instead of 16. How might that look, and/or affect outcomes, if there were play-in games?
As St. Louis Blues fans, and sports fans in general, embark on this uncharted journey, we here at Bleedin’ Blue are releasing a series of articles called “What Ifs”. The purpose is merely to be entertaining and stir a little debate.
We all know that the current main focus is on safety and the health of fans and players alike, but these articles are meant to take out the larger issue at hand. Our only focus will be on the sport itself and the possibilities.
With all that in mind, let us explore the potential option to restart the season immediately with the playoffs, but with added teams. It is one of the options that has been discussed and could have an interesting impact.
If the NHL decided to go with play-in games to decide the fate of teams on the playoff bubble, it might be a little more fair than just jumping into the playoffs with a dead-stop, season ending stats after game 71 (68, 69 and 70 for some teams). It raises more questions too.
As with jumping straight into a normal 16-team playoff, do you go by points percentage, which puts everything including the top teams in the Western Conference into flux? Or, do you go by the cold, hard points as they are and let fans complain as they always do?
How many teams make it in? How many games are played, i.e. do you do a short series of three or five games or do you have a do-or-die one game takes all?
For the purposes of this article, we will go with something The Hockey Guy proposed. It would be a 20-team playoff, with the top six teams in each conference going right to the “regular” portion of the playoffs and the bottom four in each conference having a three-game series.
I kind of like the one-game scenario, but I suppose if you’re going to make teams travel anyway, after a long layoff, you better give them more than one chance.
For the Western Conference, things are pretty straight forward. It’s pretty easy to label everyone one through 10, with the only real consternation being who should be the top team. Since this is a Blues site, as The Hockey Guy did, we will go based on pure points alone at the break.
The Eastern Conference is where it gets a little more “unfair”. Poor Florida is only three points out of third place in their division but they would miss the playoffs in this scenario because the Metropolitan Division would have seven of the 10 conference representatives in here. Theoretically you could have a one-game play in between the Rangers and Panthers, but I don’t see that happening.
The Western Conference will be straight forward in outcome too. Basically, we can fast forward through all that because the matchups will end up being the same as those in the straight to the playoffs article.
Winnipeg vs. Minnesota
The Minnesota Wild might be able to give the Jets a run for their money. Might is the key word.
Ultimately, this series would come down to home ice advantage, if nothing else and the Winnipeg Jets would have that. Minnesota was 1-2-0 against the Jets, with their lone win coming in a shootout in January.
The Jets wins were dominant. They skated off to 5-2 and 6-0 wins.
Ultimately, unless the Jets choke, I just don’t see Minnesota being able to take this. Maybe if it was a one and done, they could sneak by, but not in a series. Winnipeg advances in two.
Nashville vs. Vancouver
This one has much more potential to be interesting than the other Western Conference series.
Vancouver is young and inexperienced, for the most part. The fact they have put themselves in a playoff race this early in their process surprised many.
Nashville still has plenty of pieces that went to the Stanley Cup Final a few years ago. However, their scoring is patchy and their defense is almost non-existent for a team that won with defense and goaltening that special year.
The teams are pretty even overall. Vancouver has more goals and they’ve both allowed 217 goals to this point.
Additionally, Vancouver smoked the Preds in the regular season for all three games. The Canucks won by scores of 5-3, 6-3 and 6-2.
All the games were quite a bit in the past, with the most recent game in January and the others in November. Nevertheless, having that mental edge could spark the Canucks.
I leaned heavily toward the Canucks to take this series, especially since it would not change the outcome of who played who since Winnipeg won as the higher seed. However, my gut tells me to stick with a Blues against Predators series in the more traditional first round. So, the more experienced Predators slip by in three games.
Here is where it gets trickier. Adding in those fringe teams actually includes some hot teams and some teams that might be better overall.
It also switches around some of the eventual matchups in the normal portion of the playoffs.
Carolina vs. NY Rangers
This one is interesting for multiple reasons. The Carolina Hurricanes were sputtering a bit prior to the break, before they won three in a row. They had been in a guaranteed spot for some of the season and fell out.
On the flip side, the New York Rangers were terrible to start the season. Then, they went on the kind of run that had them dreaming of pulling off a St. Louis Blues and going from worst (almost) to first. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but still.
Carolina still deserves their seed. If the playoffs began immediately, they’d be the seventh seed and face the Washington Capitals. I even said they would give the Capitals plenty of trouble.
However, things get thrown into flux with this play-in format. While the break would surely sap a lot of New York’s momentum, I think the Rangers pull off the upset here.
The Rangers dominated in the regular season, sweeping four games from Carolina. They won 4-2, 3-2, 5-3 and 5-2, allowing more than two goals only once. A big question would be the health of the Rangers goaltenders, but if that’s in tact, the Blueshirts take this one in three.
That would put them into a first round series with Boston and, perhaps, give the Bruins more of a test than Columbus would have in the other format.
Columbus vs. NY Islanders
Similar to the Western Conference, the outcome of this one matters little just for the fact of knowing who Boston would play. I could pick either team and either one plays Washington.
Even with that in mind, this is an intriguing matchup. Columbus was in free fall during late February and the Islanders had been chipping away.
In March, the Blue Jackets somewhat righted the ship. The Islanders fell back, going 2-4-4 in their last 10 games.
The Islanders won two of three against the Blue Jackets. One game was a 3-2 overtime winner and the other the Islanders got a shutout, 2-0. Columbus won the most recent game, 3-2, but that was still back in December. Both teams have changed quite a bit and I’m not even talking about personnel.
I honestly have no idea who would win this series. The Hockey Guy picked Columbus and his reasoning is sound. Part of the Blue Jackets problem was injuries and this layoff would help that immensely.
However, my head is telling me the Islanders for some reason. Their downfall is they don’t score much and they don’t defend as well as they’re known for. However, Columbus scores even less.
So, we’ll go with the Islanders.