In a normal, non-COVID-19 world, the NHL’s regular season would be over, and the Buffalo Sabres would be almost a month into their offseason. Now, with the current state of things, everything is up in the air - including the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We don’t know what the rest of the regular season will look like at this point, let alone what the playoffs could look like - but some reports have suggested that the NHL may expand its playoff format to include 24 teams this season.
Here’s a little more detail about this potential format, courtesy of Sportsnet:
“The Top 6 teams from each Division meet in one city. They would open with best-of-three series between the No. 1 and 2 seeds (to decide a Division winner), while No. 3 meets 6 and 4 meets 5 for the right to keep playing.”
This would mean, somehow, that the Buffalo Sabres would make the playoffs - in a season where they’ve gone 30-31-8 and earned only 68 points, less than a point per game on average.
Sabres fans - how would you feel about this?
Personally, I’m not a fan. While anyone who’s followed the Sabres for years would love to see the playoff drought end, this isn’t the way to do it, on a technicality, on a format that is completely different from every other season. Yes, the circumstances of what’s going on in the world right now are unique, but to see the Sabres’ playoff drought end in this situation would just feel.... odd.
Do they deserve it after such a dismal performance during the regular season?
Let’s say the Sabres make the playoffs under such a format. Then what happens?
Would they make it past the first round? Who knows.
Under the aforementioned format mentioned by Sportsnet, the Sabres would play the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. That would certainly be a delight of a series to watch, but given the general unease of the world right now, who knows what that would even look like? There almost certainly wouldn’t be fans allowed in the stands, and who wants to be relegated to watching a Sabres/Leafs playoff series on TV alone?
And how would Sabres fans feel if the team did win that first round, or beyond? Would it be meaningful to see the team win a playoff series? To see Jack Eichel score the overtime game-winner in the seventh game to beat the Leafs and send them golfing? To watch Jeff Skinner skate his way through the other team and find the back of the net? For Rasmus Dahlin to get his first taste of playoff action?
Of course it’d be meaningful, and certainly...special. But at the same time, it would all be a little bittersweet. Regardless of whether it’s just the end of the drought, a series win or beyond that, it would always have that asterisk next to it, both on paper and in our minds.
At this point, of course, everything we’re talking about is hypothetical. The NHL still hasn’t officially announce plans for the continuation, or cancellation, of the regular season, let alone what playoffs could realistically look like. Many states are still under shelter-in-place orders or ‘in pause’ like New York, and sports are certainly a nonessential business - and the US/Canadian border remains closed as well.
How will you feel if the Sabres “make” the playoffs under these circumstances?