The NHL has become the first of the major North American sports to lay out a plan for returning to action even though dates for that have not been confirmed. This week the league explained the format for a 24-team playoffs, leaving the Buffalo Sabres just outside the bubble leading the seven teams that will be cooling their heels this summer. Additionally, the upcoming NHL Entry Draft probabilities were also released with the bottom 15 teams all in contention for the top pick.
Eagle-eyed fans have already noticed how at least eight teams who will be playing in the playoffs will also get a chance at that first draft pick, along with the seven teams that did not make it into the playoffs.
The Return to Play Plan announced on Tuesday contained a convoluted playoffs structure which involves a 16-team, eight-series ‘Qualifying Round’ and a ‘Seeding Round Robin’ among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All the games are to be played at two hub cities yet to be announced, with Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver in contention.
The 24 teams selected (12 from each conference) were based on points percentage, with the Sabres left on the outside looking in, pipped by the Montreal Canadiens to the last berth. Ironically, Buffalo were scheduled to play the Habs on March 12th when all play was canceled, and had the Sabres won in regular time at the Bell Center they would be the ones in the playoffs today with Montreal out.
All the qualifying round games will be played with playoff overtime rules while the round-robin match-ups will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules. Any ties in the standings will be resolved using regular-season points percentages.
Here are the matchups, with the bottom eight teams in each Conference to have qualified for the playoffs facing off in a best vs worst format -
Which Eastern Conference series would you be most excited to see in the Qualifying Round?— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
The races in the Western Conference have been tight all season. What Qualifying Round series catches your eye?— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
What is interesting is that the league also announced the probabilities for the teams eligible for the top pick in the NHL Entry Draft, and like every other season the bottom 15 teams will all have a shot. Which means that apart from the seven teams that don’t qualify for the expanded playoffs this season, another eight teams that lose in the best-of-five play-in qualifiers will get a chance to steal that first pick too.
Here are the odds for the top draft selection, with the official lottery to be conducted on June 26th.
- Detroit Red Wings — 18.5%
- Ottawa Senators — 13.5%
- Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks) — 11.5%
- Los Angeles Kings — 9.5%
- Anaheim Ducks — 8.5%
- New Jersey Devils — 7.5%
- Buffalo Sabres — 6.5%
- Qualifying Round Team A — 6.0%
- Qualifying Round Team B — 5.0%
- Qualifying Round Team C — 3.5%
- Qualifying Round Team D — 3.0%
- Qualifying Round Team E — 2.5%
- Qualifying Round Team F — 2.0%
- Qualifying Round Team G — 1.5%
- Qualifying Round Team H — 1.0%
The First Phase of the draft lottery will consist of three drawings (for the top three picks), and include the seven teams eliminated from the playoffs and eight placeholder spots. If a team not in the bottom seven were to win any of the first three drawings, a Second Phase would be done for the eight teams eliminated in the Qualifying Round at some point before the start of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Sabres will suffer the ignominy of missing the playoffs yet again, having last made the postseason in 2010-11, and the last time the Sabres won a playoff series was in the 2006-07 season that ended in so much heartbreak and heralded the end of an era. To add insult to injury though, they could as well see any of the eight teams that qualified for the playoffs leapfrog them in the draft lottery as well. Doesn’t get more Buffalo than that does it?