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What a 24-team Stanley Cup Playoff might look like

Chicago Blackhawks v Montreal Canadiens

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 15: Nick Suzuki #14 of the Montreal Canadiens skates for the puck against Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 15, 2020 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

Igor Eronko of Sports Express believes that the NHL could decide to have a 24-team playoff if they’re able to resume play this season. 24 is a curious number because it would mean that a few teams that have no business making the postseason would get in. It might be odd, but let’s be honest, the situation we’re currently in is totally off.

In order to make this work, we’ll have to make some assumptions. First, if there’s 24 teams in the playoffs, we’d have to assume that there’s 12 in each conference, which kind of makes sense.

According to Hockey Reference, there are exactly 12 teams in each conference that still have a realistic shot of making the playoffs. As slim as those odds might be, there’s still a chance for Montreal (0.1 percent), Chicago (2.5 percent) and Arizona (13 percent).

So, how might this work?

If you’re going to give the teams with slim playoff hopes a shot, it would have to be pretty difficult for them to go on a long run. The degree of difficulty would have to increase significantly for them.

So as of right now, the top 12 teams in the Eastern Conference would be:

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 8.44.44 AM

So your top six teams would stay intact. Then, the Islanders should play the Canadiens, while the Rangers should take on the Panthers. That would be the opening round of play-in games in the Eastern Conference. The winners of those matchups could then play the top two Wild Card teams (Carolina and Columbus) for the right to qualify for the seventh and eighth seeds.

It may not seem fair to play make-it or break-it games in this manner, but the reality is that the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets hadn’t really secured playoff spots either.

Once your two Wild Card teams are set, you’d be able to get the “normal” playoffs started.

So to recap the situation in the East:

First Round of Play-In Games:

12 - Montreal Canadiens vs. 9 - New York Islanders
11- Florida Panthers vs. 10 - New York Rangers

Second Round of Play In-Games:

Lowest seed remaining vs. 7 - Carolina Hurricanes
Highest seed remaining vs. 8 - Columbus Blue Jackets

The winners would get the two Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Let’s see how things would line up out in the Western Conference:

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 8.51.33 AM

Again, the top three teams in each division would be “safe” from the play-in rounds.

First-Round of Play-In Games:

12 - Chicago Blackhawks vs. 9 - Vancouver Canucks
11 - Arizona Coyotes vs. 10 - Minnesota Wild

Second-Round of Play-In Games:

Lowest seed remaining vs. 7 - Winnipeg Jets
Highest seed remaining vs. 8 - Nashville Predators

Winners qualify as the two Wild Card teams in the Western Conference

Sure, there will be fans of the current Wild Card teams that will be outraged, but the reality is that Columbus, Carolina, Nashville and Winnipeg really hadn’t secured anything. The biggest advantage they get by sitting in a playoff spot at the time of the pause is that they don’t have to play in the initial play-in round.

Giving teams like Montreal and Chicago an opportunity to qualify for the playoffs may not seem fair either. It would be a little surprising to see the NHL actually go down this path, but those two teams technically both still had slim shots of making the postseason.

Fun Fact: With this format, the Central Division would be the only division to have every team qualify for the playoffs.


Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.