What The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Could Look Like

Stanley Cup Playoffs

First things first, we can all agree as hockey fans, we all wish hockey was still going on. But we also can agree the NHL made the right call to suspend the season amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. With that being said, what will fans look forward to once the NHL does return? Erin Butler did a great job of laying out what a regular season and playoffs might look like. But in regards to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the scenarios themselves, what possibilities does the NHL have in mind. Let’s take a look at those possibilities right here.

Possible 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff Scenarios

Latest From The NHL And CDC

When the NHL initially paused last week, the league was adamant about awarding the Stanley Cup this season. In an ideal world, the NHL could finish out the regular season and get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, we are living in ever-changing times. A new NHL memo released on Monday stating to its players they are allowed to go back to their home countries. The league advised its players to self-quarantine in their homes through and including Friday, March 27th or longer depending on their local mandates.

This memo was following a new CDC recommendation that no large gatherings of 50 or people happen for eight weeks. That puts the NHL coming back into action around May. That almost eliminates any hope of having a clear cut end to the regular season and playoffs. The best-case scenario for the NHL is to go right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated he wants to uphold the integrity of the league by having it end with some credibility. If that is what is going to happen, let’s dive into some playoff scenarios that have been thrown out there.

Option One: 24 Teams Make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The consensus option going around is that the NHL will have 24 teams make the playoffs once the league resumes whenever that will be. Igor Eronko of SportsExpress notes that there will be a play in/playout round. What that looks like nobody exactly knows. But with the playoff races in each conference very exciting it is only fair to take those teams that are battling for the final two wild card spots. Again if there is no way to finish the regulation, the league will have to base this on points or winning percentage. How the NHL goes about making the bracket is another story.

For instance, if the NHL does go down this route then that means twelve teams from each conference will make the playoffs. A couple of questions come to mind if the league does this? First, how long will the series be? Prior to the NHL changing to the best-of-seven format, playoff series use to be the best-of-three or best-of-five. This is all dependent on how long the NHL wants to go into the summer. Since teams have been asked to look into building time through July, the latest the playoffs will go is July. The ideal situation will be to have the playout round be best-of-three and have the rest of the playoffs be best-of-seven.

The second question is how will the teams be seeded? The most obvious thing to do is give the division leaders a bye into the first round from there what should the league do. There are so many scenarios. One that comes to mind is to have two rounds of play in games. The ninth seed will play the 12th seed while the 10th seed takes on the 11th seed. The winners of those games in their respective conferences will play the two wild-card leaders for the right to get into the big dance. In this scenario, teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks make the playoffs.

For example in the Eastern Conference, the (9) New York Islanders play the (12) Montreal Canadiens and (10) New York Rangers play (11) Florida Panthers. The lowest remaining seed plays the (7) Carolina Hurricanes and the highest remaining seed plays (8) Columbus Blue Jackets. The lowest remaining seed will play the Boston Bruins, while the highest remaining seed will play the Washington Capitals in the next round.

Out West, the (9) Vancouver Canucks play (12) Chicago Blackhawks and (10) Minnesota Wild play (11) Arizona Coyotes. The lowest remaining seed plays the (7) Winnipeg Jets and the highest remaining seed plays (8) Nashville Predators. The lowest remaining seed will play the St. Louis Blues, while the highest remaining seed will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the next round.

Granted that is a lot of rest time for those already in the playoffs, but those teams earn the rest as they had their places in the Stanley Cup Playoffs already locked up before the season paused. However, this only scenario the league could look into for 24 team playoffs.

Option Two: Seven versus Ten and Eight versus Nine

The next option the NHL can explore is having four teams battle for the final two wild card spots. With people wanting the NHL to expand the playoffs, what better time to give it a try than now. This is a crazy time and with other sports league expanding their playoffs, the NHL will be right with them. But instead of having two rounds of play in games, there is only one round with the teams seeded seventh through tenth. The teams will be determined by points percentage, not standings points.

Similar to what happens in the Champions Hockey League, there will be a two-game series played on back-to-back nights, and the winner will be determined by total goals scored in the series. But unlike the Champions Hockey League, in this scenario, the highest seed will have both games on home ice. While there is a possibility of a blowout, there is always a chance of a blowout in the second game as well to swing the tide.

The Eastern Conference matchups will be the (10) Florida Panthers versus the (7) Carolina Hurricanes and (9) Columbus Blues Jackets versus (8) New York Islanders. The lowest remaining seed will play the Boston Bruins. The highest-remaining seed will play the Washington Capitals. The two versus three matchups will remain the same.

Over in the Western Conference, the matchups will be (10) Minnesota Wild versus (7) Nashville Predators and (9) Winnipeg Jets versus (8) Calgary Flames. The lowest remaining seed plays the St. Louis Blues, while the highest remaining seed plays the Vegas Golden Knights. Again the two-three matchups stay the same. The rest of the playoffs will be played as normal, best-of-seven.

Option Three: 31 Team March Madness Single Elimination Tournament

The final option for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is not likely to happen, but what about a 31-team March Madness-style tournament that is single elimination. This idea is certainly intriguing, but why reward teams that are bad and already out of the playoff picture like the Detroit Red Wings. Before the season was paused, the Red Wings were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

Hypothetically, if the league were to go down this route, that means two teams one from east Conference will get a bye based on points. For example, the Bruins and Blues will get the byes, with the bottom four teams playing two play-in games for the right play those teams. That means the Red Wings will play the Ottawa Senators to play the Bruins, while the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks will play with the winner playing the Blues. For the rest of the teams, the seeding will be 2-27.

This scenario is unlikely to happen, but it will be definitely fun to watch unfold on television. Given that it is single elimination, that means anything can happen in a one-game playoff.


When and if the NHL does return, the most likely possibilities for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be played under are options one and two. Both options allow the league to keep the integrity of the game and reward the Stanley Cup in a timely matter.

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