Game On? The NHL’s Wildly Wondiferous Playoff Plan

Let’s not bury the lede you came for, dear reader. So long as the NHL plays this summer, the 2019–2020 Chicago Blackhawks are a playoff team (sort of), just like the Brain Trust fucking said. Chicago will get its first taste of playoff hockey (sort of) since Nashville smacked it out of their mouths in their piss yellows three years ago.

Given the circumstances, there was no chance that whatever the Board of Governors (or whoever) and NHLPA came up with would be the belle of the ball. But the whole what-have-you they did come up with isn’t as horrid as you’d expect from this condom-in-the-toilet of a league. The seven worst teams in the league don’t get playoff hockey. They’ll likely have any playoffs in just two Hub Cities to reduce travel. Bettman talked about the nebulous concept of “having enough testing” before things resume. And most importantly for us, the Hawks will be there, which, combined with the Habs making it, is a Gribble of an idea.

So, here’s what we know and don’t know, relative to the Blackhawks (mostly).

What We Know

The Regular Season is over. All stats, awards, and the like will be based on where the league stood when it paused on March 12. DETROIT SUCKS.

Playoffs determined by points percentage. Never hurts to play in a conference with the Ducks, Sharks (apparently), and Kings, the only teams worse than the Hawks in the West. Two teams that got the pud-end of this deal are Buffalo and New Jersey, who each played two fewer games than Montreal and could have jettisoned over them with just one win in either game. Back and to the left.

Top seeds play round robin, lower seeds play elimination. The top four teams from each Conference will play each other in a round-robin format to determine their seeds. This round robin will use REGULAR SEASON RULES, which includes five-minute OTs and the spicy late-Sunday-morning giardiniera fart that is the shootout. If the round robin ends in a seeding tie, then regular season points percentage will determine the higher seed. Each of these eight teams have a guaranteed spot in the first round and will end up playing one of the remaining 16 teams that will play qualifying rounds.

The bottom eight teams in each Conference will play a best-of-five series for a shot to move on to the first round. The qualifying round uses PLAYOFF OVERTIME RULES, which is a full fucking 20 minutes of overtime hockey until there’s a fucking winner, baby. Who plays whom is based on points percentage. So, the 5 seed faces the 12 seed, the 6 seed faces the 11 seed, and so on. The winners of the qualifying rounds in each Conference will play one of the four top-seeded teams in their Conference, but there’s not much detail after that.

The Blackhawks will play the Oilers when shit gets going. The Hawks get first dibs at the Connor McDavid experience. The Hawks managed to beat Edmonton two of three times during the regular season. With the qualifying round taking a best-of-five format, the Hawks have a legitimate shot at not just making the playoffs (sort of) but also advancing.

At the season’s pause, the Oilers were a bottom-five Corsi team. They have a game-breaking forward and current Art Ross winner. Aside from goaltending, when the Oilers look into a mirror, the Blackhawks scream back. In the words of ol’ JR, this has SLOBBERKNOCKER written all over it. If ever this city were going to appreciate the beauty of Corey Crawford, this playoff series would be it. With at least three future Hall of Famers between these forward corps and a sun-bleached blown-out diaper on the ass ends of each team, goaltending will likely be the thing that wins this series. And Corey Crawford is fucking better than Mike Smith, 2011–12 be damned.

The draft will be a fucking zoo. We’ll probably talk more about this in a different post, but the Hawks could have a 3% chance at the first overall pick if they’re eliminated by the Oilers, and some other goofy shit also happens that we don’t feel like thinking about right this second.

What We Don’t Know

Where or when things will start. We know that teams will end up playing in one of two Hub Cities. One city will serve as a hub for the East, the other a hub for the West. Bettman mentioned 12 potential cities they could use as a hub, including Chicago, Toronto, Las Vegas, and Edmonton (but not Arkush). But outside of that, we don’t know which cities they’ll play in.

We also don’t know exactly when things will start. Bettman made it clear though that formal training camps—otherwise known as “Phase 3”—would not start anytime before July 1. So, best case, you’re likely not looking at any actual hockey until about mid-July, since the NHL hasn’t even reached Phase 2 (voluntary practices at home facilities with like six total players or something). That assumes that the NHL will have the means—both physically and financially—to conduct the constant COVID-19 testing necessary to prevent another massive outbreak.

What the playoffs look like after the qualifying rounds. After the round robin and qualifiers, there’s not much info. Bettman explicitly said that they will not reveal how matchups work because it’s what the players wanted. He hinted that they’ll likely do it by seeding or brackets, which is a welcome respite from their bend over, shit on the wall, and read the Rorschach method they’ve been using since any of the previous lockouts.

The only thing we know for sure is that Conference Finals and the Cup will be a best of seven.

Whether any of this will happen at all. Bettman made a point to say that the NHL won’t resume play until they get the go-ahead from health professionals and governments to do so. Given how cohesive and in agreement everyone in this armpit nation has been about even the simplest of sacrifices in such aspects as “wearing a fucking mask in public even if you’re a healthy person” and “not drinking bleach as a cure,” there’s still a very real possibility that this is all window dressing.

What’s Next?

We’ll have thoughts on all this shit as more information trickles out. But for us as Blackhawks fans, you’ll take this setup. While the Oilers aren’t a pushover, they’re the precise team that the Hawks can at least try to outgun.

Yes, McDavid and Draisaitl are going to kick gum and chew ass against whichever combination of Seeler–Maatta–Gilbert–Koekkoek Coach Nathan For You throws out there. But they’ll also have to deal with Playoff Garbage Dick on months of rest, which probably means 40 minutes of Kane every fucking night. This playoff format fits right into the strengths of Colliton’s system.

And until Corey Crawford shows us that he isn’t the guy doing all the fucking, it’s hard to bet against him in favor of Sike Mmith.

It’s not pretty. It’s not perfect. It’s hockey. And the 2019–2020 Blackhawks are in the playoffs (sort of).

Just like the Brain Trust fucking said.