Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Why a 24-team playoff format means your team is winning the Cup

It sure sounds like we’re doing this, huh?

Nothing is official, and we may still be weeks away from any kind of formal plan being locked down. But recent reports have made it increasingly clear where the NHL is leaning: towards an unprecedented 24-team playoff, one involving a shorter play-in round and (maybe) some round-robin games before that.

Is that the right plan? Everyone has an opinion and plenty of questions. I’ve heard fans pushing for everything from a leaguewide tournament to a traditional 16-team format to just scrapping the whole thing and starting over with a new season when we know it’s safe. There’s validity to all of those ideas. But at this point, it sure seems like the NHL has its eyes firmly set on the 24-team option. And that’s going to be deeply weird.

Here’s the good news: Your team is going to win.

No, really. I’ve broken it down, and a 24-team format actually helps your team. It’s practically rigged for them. I really think they’ve got this.

Let’s assume we get the format that’s been mentioned most often: the league’s top 24 teams based on points percentage, six teams per division, with the Rangers and Wild crossing over. I’m going to go through all 24 of those teams and explain why this unprecedented playoff format is going to help them.

Just do me one favor: Only read your team’s entry.

You’re good with that, right? Of course you are. It’s what you do on most of my posts anyway. So let’s get to scrolling, find your team and figure out why they’re going to win it all. Plan the parade! (The parade will be a Zoom meeting.) Here we go.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

Let’s not overthink this.

Yes, a 24-team tournament will be unprecedented. Yes, a combination of the expanded format and rusty players will lead to all sorts of randomness, especially early on. But once we settle in, it’s still hockey, and that means the best teams are more likely to win. The Boston Bruins are the best team in the NHL.

It’s easy enough to forget that now, since most of us hadn’t looked at the standings page in months, but the Bruins were running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. And unlike certain other Atlantic powerhouses we could mention, there are no worries here about knowing how to win because the Bruins were one game away from the Cup last year. True, teams that lose in the final often exit early the next season. But that’s largely because of fatigue, and the Bruins (and everyone else) will be well-rested and healthy. They’ll also have “home ice” through the playoffs, which won’t matter much in empty arenas but should serve up easier matchups.

Again, don’t overthink it. Pick the best team to win. That’s the Bruins.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Everything we said in the last section about the best teams winning is true … except for the part about the Bruins being the league’s best team. That would be the Lightning, who started slow and then tore through the league for months. They weren’t going to catch the Bruins for first place overall, but they’re win-loss records are almost matched, and sorry Boston, they don’t give out loser points in the playoffs.

On top of that, the Lightning are one of the few teams that might benefit from playing in empty arenas. The atmosphere in Tampa is great, but we all know what happened last year against Columbus. If the Lightning were to get off to a slow start on home ice, everyone in the building would be thinking “here we go again.” Instead, the Lightning won’t have to worry about the crowd, or about dealing with a crush of media or having fans stop them on the street to ask if they’re choking again.

They can ignore all the narrative nonsense and just play hockey. And they’re really, really good at playing hockey.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, as everyone knows. But someday, that drought is going to end. That’s just the math. Whether it’s this season or next or ten years from now or a century down the road, the day will come. And when it does, Leaf fans are going unleash decades of frustration and run wild in an eruption of pent-up joy, unlike anything we’ve ever seen.


Let’s face if, Leaf fans, you know how this is going to go. After waiting your whole life to see the team finally win the Cup, of course, it’s going to happen in a messed-up year with a bizarre format and empty arenas. Of course, it’s going to be a win that absolutely nobody else on the planet will count. Of course, you won’t be allowed to fulfill a lifelong dream by going to the game where they win and witnessing the moment in person. Of course, you’re going to have to hear about asterisks for the rest of your life. Of course, there won’t be a parade.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team in pro sports that could win a championship and make it depressing. We all know this is happening.

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