This weekend, the NHL and the NHLPA agreed on the end result if/when the NHL can return to play. That will be a 24 team playoff comprised of the top-12 teams in each conference, which means the Rangers will be in as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. That bodes well for the Rangers. Especially if this bracket holds true (meaning Washington remains the #3 seed).
As per @FriedgeHNIC and @reporterchris, the NHL and NHLPA are working on various Stanley Cup Playoff scenarios. Here's what a 24-team, conference-based setup with a play-in round could potentially look like.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 21, 2020
As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. First things first, was there ever a more anti-climactic vote than the one that was announced this weekend? The NHL Board of Governors agreed on the playoffs, and the NHLPA Executive Board “agreed to more negotiations,” meaning they agreed to the basis of the playoffs but that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, this is a big hurdle to clear, but it’s maybe 20-30% of all the decisions needed before the league can return to play. And some of those decisions are made by state and federal governments, not the league and the players.
2. Two teams from the NHLPA voted no: The Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alex Killorn addressed the Lightning’s concerns, stating the bye week leaves some of the top teams lesser prepared and that some teams that would have missed the playoffs are now making the playoffs. He also cited a best-of-five means some of those teams could make runs when they shouldn’t have in the first place. The Lightning, of course, have first hand knowledge of what it can be like to run into a team with all the momentum on their side.
3. Nothing has been stated by the Carolina Hurricanes, who would get the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs this year. Ranger fans have joked that the Hurricanes don’t want to face the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist, who has owned the Canes for much of his career, including utter dominance the last three seasons. But it’s not even clear if Lundqvist will start. I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.
4. While teams should be wary of the Rangers, and we will get to that, teams should also be laughed at for some of these fears. After all, weren’t there reports that much of the league didn’t want to have this playoff because they didn’t want to face Carey Price in a short series? The same Carey Price who has a .909 SV% this season and outside of four elite (and boy were those elite) seasons, is a middle of the road goalie?
5. As for the playoffs, the Rangers are a team that can be a matchup nightmare. They have three goalies that can steal a series if they get hot, and can steal multiple rounds if that hot streak extends a month. They have a legitimate superstar in Artemi Panarin, who is one piece of one of the best offenses in the league and a true-top six. They have puck moving defensemen who can transition to offense with the best in the league. They were also trending up in every major defensive stat since January, which culminated in that incredible February that put them in the playoff hunt. They are also fully healthy. The Rangers are flawed, especially on the left side of the defense and the bottom-six, but the top-end skill is some of the best.
6. The matchups are great for the Rangers. Carolina is a solid team, but the Rangers always play them well. Washington (if they stay the #3 seed) is deeply flawed and their goaltending leaves a lot to be desired. The bad matchups for the Rangers –from teams they’d actually play in the second round– are the Flyers and Bruins. If the seeding holds, and that’s a big IF, then the Rangers could turn heads.
7. As for who starts in goal – well we need to extend this content out a bit, don’t we?