Learning this year’s playoff format

The NHL has already ruled out seven teams from moving on as they officially canceled the rest of the regular season. That means the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres could go without playing a game for possibly nine months or more, assuming the start of next season gets pushed back. 

There is a plan in place to restart the season with a play-in and qualifying round and then playoffs, but it only happens if the NHL gets approval from medical and civil authorities to resume play. 

Round Robin – Before Round 1 of the playoffs, there will be a round robin. This consists of the top 4 teams in each Conference playing for first-round seeding. Each of the 4 teams will play the other three once. This means that even though the Philadelphia Flyers had 89 points compared to the Boston Bruins‘ 100, the Flyers could be seeded higher. 

The Round Robin will be three games, and overtime will be followed by regular season rules, meaning a 5-minute 3-on-3, and then a shootout if needed. Philadelphia, Boston, the Washington Capitals, and the Tampa Bay Lightning will all faceoff in this round. In the Western Conference, it will be the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars.

Qualifying Round – Also before Round 1 and at the same time the round robins are being played, there will be qualifying rounds for all of the other teams that weren’t ruled out. These will be best-of-5 series with playoff overtime rules.

Eastern Qualifying Matchups:

This is what the playoff picture looks like in the East, but know that all of those seeds can change:


Western Qualifying Matchups:

This is what the playoff picture looks like in the East, but know that all of those seeds can change:

The winners of the qualifying round and all teams in the Round Robin will move on to a traditional 16-team playoff format. The 1st and 2nd round format and series lengths are to be determined, but Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final are both planned to be a best-of-7 series.

Since we don’t know the winners or seeding of any of these teams, we won’t know any future matchups.

All of these games will be played in two hub cities, but those have yet to be finalized. It’s very possible that the Stanley Cup Finals could be played in the team’s home city.

Remember, that all of this only happens in the second half of July at the earliest. If the NHL isn’t able to successfully get through all phases, this entire plan could be postponed or canceled. This is a big step in the right direction for hockey to return, though. All we can do is hope that things get better and that the league can help get this done in the safest way possible.  

Kevin Freiheit
Kevin Freiheit
I founded Buffalo Hockey Central in 2008 and have poured hours and hours into this site. Luckily, we have a great team of writers and designers who have helped keep this up and running despite a ton of out-of-pocket costs. We do this because we enjoy it, and we're desperate to see the Sabres win the Cup someday, but they have to make the playoffs first.
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