Now that the NHL’s 24-team season restart plan is on the books, there are two teams that likely need to discuss exactly what a playoff game is exactly.
At last year’s NHL Entry Draft the Tampa Bay Lightning traded J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks, and a “conditional first-round pick in 2020” was the cornerstone of the deal. The conditions on that pick certainly didn’t anticipate a post-Covid-19 world, but basically if the Canucks made the playoffs, they’d give the Lightning their first-round pick in 2020. If Vancouver missed the playoffs and participated in the NHL Draft Lottery, they’d keep the pick and in 2021 send the Lightning their first-round selection in that draft no matter the results of the season.
Here’s the exact wording of the trade via the Bolts website.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired a conditional first-round pick in 2020, a third-round selection in 2019 (71st overall) and goaltender Marek Mazanec from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward J.T. Miller.
Should the Canucks not make the playoffs in 2019-20, the first-round selection will move to the 2021 draft.
Under the restart format, the Canucks as the #7 seed in the Western Conference will face the #10-seeded Minnesota Wild in the “qualifying round” which is a best-of-five series. So the question becomes: If the Canucks lose this series — did they make the playoffs?
Vancouver will be participating in an elimination group of hockey games against another team in their conference, with unlimited overtimes available and no 3-on-3 hockey. Just like the Stanley Cup Playoffs that you love, those games could require five or six 20 minute overtimes to determine a winner.
So if they lose that series, do they have to keep their pick in 2020, and give the Lightning an unprotected first-round pick next season?
Here’s the language from the NHL’s release today about the upcoming 24-team format to finish the season.
Games in the qualifying round will be played with playoff overtime rules. The round-robin games will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules with ties in the standings broken by regular-season points percentage.
After the round-robins and the qualifying round, the conference-based playoffs will be continue in the two hub cities. Each of the winners of the qualifying round will advance to face one of the round-robin teams in the first round. The Return to Play Committee is discussing whether those first-round series will be set through seeding or by bracket.
The Return to Play Committee also has yet to decide the length of the first-round and second-round series, and whether the second-round series will be determined through seeding or by bracket.
The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will each be a best-of-7 series. Commissioner Bettman told NBCSN there is a slim possibility the final three series can be played in the home arenas of the teams that reach those rounds, but that would require a substantial change in the outlook of the pandemic. It’s most likely all rounds of the playoffs will be played in the hub cities without fans in attendance.
Even Pierre LeBrun isn’t sure how this is going to go for now.
Let me clarify by saying another NHL source says this is still being discussed internally as far as whether the round-robin/play-in for record-keeping purposes will be considered playoffs or not. For now, they're saying it's a Qualifying Round to get into the 1st Rd of playoffs https://t.co/iaptpdqols— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 26, 2020
We’re not sure which way the Lightning would prefer, but it seems like Vancouver might want a shot at consensus #1 overall prospect Alexis Lafrenière even if it’s a fractional chance in this year’s lottery.
It’s just one of several things that still needs to be worked out before the start of this season.