Analyzing the potential 24 team playoffs: The Preliminary Round

The upsets will make us all mad.

As we’ve reported, yesterday there was some big news as the NHL and NHLPA voted on a  resolution for how the season would resume, in particular in regards to the playoffs. A 24 team format was proposed in the vote, and an agreement was reached to further discussions going forward with this idea.

Now, all this means is that both of the sides are going to keep talking about how a resumption in play would look like. This by no means equals a definite return, as agonizing as that is to say. However, regardless, this doesn’t mean we can’t speculate on what this would look like, and how interesting scenarios could get in this extravaganza of a playoffs.

So, let’s take a look at all the matchups, new caveats, and even make some predictions on what we could see.

First of all, this graphic put out by Sportsnet shows what the bracket would look like:

In particular for the Flyers, as things stand, they would be one of the four teams in the Eastern Conference to get a bye into the second first round of the playoffs. The way it has been described is that these to four teams will play each other in a round robin format to determine the specific seeding. At the moment, how many times each team in this round robin would play each other is unknown. It looks to me like it would either be in a manner similar to the FIFA World Cup (each team plays each other once) or the Champions League (each team plays each other twice) in football/soccer. However, unlike in those cases, it would be unlikely that ties would be allowed, and if the overtime “loser point” is kept, that would make these seeding games quite interesting.

It has been well publicized that there will be a play-in round, with those series being best-of-five matchups taking place potentially at neutral sites. This to me is particularly interesting since sub-par teams like the Canadiens and Blackhawks would then make the playoffs, which slightly cheapens the format if they end up progressing forward.

So, first, let’s predict what could happen with the top four seeding groups before projecting the play-in round matchups. For the sake of ease, I’m going to be using FHM 6 to simulate games. For the seeding games, I’m going to simulate the average winner if each team played the other in a home and away setting ten times. The series I will simulate through the number of games actually in the series (either five or seven).

Eastern Conference

Assuming each team plays all of the others twice, the aggregate matchups based on ten games per occurrence looked like this:

Eastern Seeding Round Robin

-Flyers (Away)Capitals (Away)Bruins (Away)Lightning (Away)
Flyers (Home)-6-4 PHI 7-3 PHI7-3 PHI
Capitals (Home)7-3 WSH-6-4 BOS6-4 WSH
Bruins (Home)6-4 BOS8-2 WSH-7-3 BOS
Lightning (Home)7-3 TBL6-4 WSH6-4 TBL-

To summarize, the Capitals go 4-2, winning the #1 seed, and the Lightning are the inverse at 2-4, and are the #4 seed. I would say this this is slightly surprising, but with the limited number of sample size here, anything can happen. Especially given how good Alex Ovechkin has been this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Capitals roll through the seeding games.

Both the Flyers and the Bruins went 3-3, however, the Flyers won more of their games split across all of the probabilities, so they are the #2 seed and Boston is #3. Shockingly, the Flyers were 0-3 on the road, as they’ve been better away from home under Alain Vigneault. However, they were the only team to be undefeated at home, and fits in with the theme that has largely been the case this season.

Western Conference

In the West, things aren’t nearly as close.

Western Seeding Round Robin

-Blues (Away)Avs (Away)Vegas (Away)Stars (Away)
Blues (Home)-6-4 COL6-4 STL6-4 DAL
Avs (Home)6-4 COL-9-1 COL6-4 COL
Vegas (Home)7-3 STL7-3 COL-6-4 DAL
Stars (Home)8-2 STL6-4 DAL6-4 DAL-

The Colorado Avalanche run away with it, going 5-1 and easily taking the #1 seed and going undefeated when they are the home team. The Dallas Stars, at 4-2, are the #2 seed, and the Blues at 3-3 are #3. Meanwhile, the Vegas Golden Knights failed to win a single game and are the #4 seed.

This was really surprising, as I didn’t expect the Golden Knights to underperform to the level they did. Does this mean I think they’ll go out in the first round of the playoffs? No. But it’s worrying for them that they’re so poorly rated against their fellow Western Conference competition.

Eastern Conference Play-in Round

So, now, we are finally at the actual elimination games. As I said before, I’m going to sim five games per series in this round.

#9 Columbus vs #8 Toronto

This series wasn’t really even close, as the Blue Jackets failed to score in their first two games. Though they would win the third game, finally getting on the board and staving off elimination, they were trashed by the Leafs in game four.

Result: Toronto wins 3-1

#12 Montreal vs #5 Pittsburgh

Remind me again why the Canadiens are included? They were 31-31-9 before the season pause, and had lost three games on the bounce. If they were to win this series, my faith in fairness would dissipate.

Fortunately, they don’t. But they come close.

The Penguins win the first game on a Connor Sheary power play goal, but Montreal come back in game two to stun the Penguins in a 6-5 victory. The two teams split games three and four, and in a crucial game five, the sheer star power of the Penguins manage to overcome the shock Canadiens’ push.

Result: Pittsburgh wins 3-2

#10 Florida vs #7 New York Islanders

Folks, we have our first upset.

The Panthers win games one and two on last minute efforts in the third period and overtime, and nearly swept the Islanders if it wasn’t for Cal Clutterbuck of all people. However, that didn’t matter much as Florida shut them out the next game.

Result: Florida wins 3-1

#11 New York Rangers vs #6 Carolina

This proved to be a fairly close series, as it went back and forth to the very end. In the end, the Hurricanes managed to come out on top largely thanks to the Rangers’ goaltending not being able to stop anything. Regardless, Artemi Panarin had himself a series. He scored 9 points in 5 games!

Result: Carolina wins 3-2

Western Conference Play-in Round

#9 Winnipeg vs #8 Calgary

In a recent interview, Patrik Laine said that he “may look terrible” if the season resumes, and boy was he right.

Laine had no goals and only one assist as the Jets were eliminated by the prowess of Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk. The pair easily led the Flames to victory.

Result: Calgary wins 3-1

#12 Chicago vs #5 Edmonton

Let’s get one thing straight. The Blackhawks are a bad team. They are last in the Central Division and are only included in this format because the Pacific Division is absolute trash.

Well...they manage to upset the Oilers.

Edmonton had a 2-1 lead in the series but blew it. McDavid really can’t catch a break.

Yes, I know the playoffs can be random and that something like this is bound to happen in a 24 team format, but this one stings.

Result: Chicago wins 3-2

#10 Minnesota vs #7 Vancouver

Yet another upset was in the works as the Wild also come back from being down 2-1, beating the Canucks as Elias Pettersson was unable to help his team stop a veteran-laden Wild from progressing.

Result: Minnesota wins 3-2

#11 Arizona vs #6 Nashville

We also have the first sweep!

Nashville put the hapless Coyotes to the sword. Rick Tocchet’s club only managed to score two goals across the three games as the Predators announced their presence to the NHL.

Result: Nashville wins 3-0

So what does the first round look like?

I’m glad you asked, because here it is, thanks to a bracket maker I found online. The seedings are auto adjusted to a 1v8 format.

I’ll sim these in a future article, but there are some interesting things to note right off the bat. The Flyers would play the Panthers for the first time since 1996, we finally won’t have a Boston v. Toronto first round, and the Blackhawks would be perhaps the worst team ever to make the playoffs.

All of this would be so unique and interesting if it actually happens, and I look forward to previewing the start of the first round sometime soon.