NHL needs to define playoffs before the draft

Will there 24 teams in the playoffs or only 24 teams returning? Even if the season resumes while some teams are sent home, not all 24 might be playoff bound.

Since the start of the season’s hiatus, the NHL has been working behind the scenes to work on a return. So far the only thing that’s for sure in the world of hockey is that when and if the league comes back, more than the normal 16 teams will be in the “playoffs”.

Even though everyone expects hockey to come back with a 24-team playoff, maybe not all 24 teams will be in the playoffs. Pierre LeBrun tweeted that the field of 16 teams in the playoffs will remain the same, but that more than sixteen teams will fight in a “play in” series to earn a spot. Sounds confusing, but one major question comes up in regards to draft picks.

If the NHL comes back with 24 teams, the Arizona Coyotes will live to play another day. The Coyotes were outside of a playoff spot when the season was put on pause and want to make the most of pending free agent trade acquisition Taylor Hall and a healthy Darcy Kuemper.

Guess who else wants the Coyotes to make the playoffs? Why, that would be the team Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy win in 2018 the New Jersey Devils.

As part of the trade that sent Taylor Hall to the desert, the Devils got a first round pick, as well as a second conditional pick (in the form of a third round pick that could become a second or first round pick).

The conditions for that pick were either Hall re-signs with the Coyotes, or the Coyotes will a playoff series this season the pick would become a second round pick. If both happen, the pick would become a first rounder.

No matter what happens, the conditional pick would come from the 2021 draft. There’s too much stuff going on in the world right now to even begin speculating on Hall’s eminent free agency. The Coyotes could easily win a playoff series if their team remains healthy and plays at full strength, and New Jersey wants that to at least have that third rounder become a second.

So if the Coyotes win this play in to the playoffs that LeBrun was talking about, would it satisfy the conditions of the conditional draft pick? Would it count as a playoff series win? If not, what would it count as? The NHL needs to clearly and definitively define these proposed play-in series for circumstances such as this.

One of the most confusing parts is that an argument can be made for both sides. Since the regular season would more or less be over you could assume any “series, whether it bed best of three for play in purposes or the more traditional seven game series, would count as “post-season”, i.e. playoff, play.

On the other hand, since the NHL is insisting on keeping the amount of teams that advance to 16, you can argue anything outside of those 16 teams is inconsistent with how the NHL has conducted their playoffs for the past few decades.


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Surely the NHL has a lot of t’s to cross and I’s to dot before the season resumes. This is one of the many questions that the league would need to work on. It must be dealt with sooner rather than later. The Taylor Hall trade might not be the only thing affected by their ruling.