Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: USA Today Sports

If the NHL is able to resume play, momentum appears to be headed towards a 24-team playoff plan, with a play-in format that would likely include the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A hypothetical format that would award the top four teams in each Conference a bye would mean the Leafs either take part in a round-robin or a play-in series against an opponent around them in the playoff bubble — with the premature speculation being that it might end up as the Columbus Blue Jackets based on the points percentage standings (8th vs. 9th seed).

A call among the NHLPA’s executive board is expected to take place on Thursday night at 7 p.m. EST to discuss the league’s latest 24-team playoff proposal.

Much more in today’s Leafs Links.

Leafs Links

Bob McKenzie on NHL’s return to play playoff format (TSN1050)
On First Up, Bob McKenzie breaks down the latest discussions among the NHL and NHLPA on return-to-play plans and the possible playoff format — one that could pit the Leafs against the Blue Jackets in a play-in scenario.

Every day, there is a different twist that is being reported. To this point, to our knowledge, the NHL and the PA have not yet settled on the exact details. Those are being hashed out as we speak.

One of the concepts that seems to have the most traction involves 24 teams, which is to suggest the three California teams as well Detroit, Ottawa, Buffalo and New Jersey would not come back from the pause. Those teams would be done in terms of the 2019-20 NHL regular season and playoffs.

Instead, they would come back with 24 teams: 12 in the East, 12 in the West. One of the variations we have heard a lot about is ranking those teams on points percentage 1-12. Keep in mind the potential for two hub cities — Vegas has been talked about, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto are all very much in the running, Columbus and Minnesota. The NHL would pick two hub cities, potentially, and house 12 teams in one and 12 in the other.

They would then take those 12 teams, seed them 1-12, and the top four teams — in the East, Boston, Tampa, Washington and Philadelphia; in the West, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas — are basically excised from the other 12 in the hub momentarily. You would then take teams seeded 5-12 and have some sort of play-in series.

It was initially talked about as a best-in-three, and then we heard it was maybe going to be a best-in-five. And then we heard the players didn’t like the best in three or the best in five idea, and they would prefer a round-robin competition that eliminates a couple of teams.

There are different ways to attack this. The one that is out there right now is this best of five series with 5 vs. 12 — Pittsburgh vs. Montreal — and 6 vs. 11 and so on. The Toronto Maple Leafs were the eighth team in points percentage and Columbus was nine, so the eight and nine would be playing each other. The Leafs, instead of playing Tampa in the first round or Boston again, could potentially — if this scenario plays itself out — play Columbus in the first round of this play-in series.

McKenzie on the lowest seeds getting an equal shot in a play-in scenario:

The criticism of the format is that a team like the Montreal Canadiens, who had less than a one percent chance of making the playoffs at the pause, now potentially could be in a best-of-five series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The same goes for the Western side, where the Edmonton Oilers would be the number-five seed and the Blackhawks would be the 12 seed. The Hawks’ percentage chance of making the playoffs at the pause was not very great. Now suddenly you are vaulting Montreal and Chicago from a one percent chance of making the playoffs to — what are the odds of Montreal beating Pittsburgh in a best-of-five after a four-month break? Some would say it’s 50-50, or maybe 40%.

The point being, Montreal’s chances of making the final 16 for the playoffs this season went from less than one percent to 40 or 50 percent. There has been some discussion of weighting the system. If there is a big point discrepancy between a five and a 12 seed, could you give the five seed a 1-0 lead in the playoffs before it begins? These are some of the things that have been talked about, and I don’t know — we’ll see where it goes.

That is kind of the format that is on the table. Those eight teams would have that best-of-whatever series, or failing that, some sort of round-robin competition to get them from eight teams down to four, and then those four teams would play against the other four teams we set aside at the beginning.

Those other four teams may be playing games against each other to, A) get themselves in tip-top shape, and B) provide the final seedings of 1-2-3-4 at the top of the bracket in the East and West. Those are some of the big picture ideas that are being tossed around.

Brian Burke on a 24-team playoff (Sportsnet 590)
Brian Burke joined Sportsnet Today to discuss the latest reporting on the possible playoff format and whether it’s truly logistically possible to execute with the current realities during the pandemic.

I fail to see how we are going to be able to pull this off with 24 teams — logistically and medically.

… If this they can do this, great. But I have no idea how you are going to do testing, quarantine, sanitation, transportation — I don’t know how you are going to do that for 24 teams.

I think the league is making one vital mistake by not locking in next season right now and saying, “This is what next season is going to look like.” Give season ticket holders, broadcaster partners the lay of the land. “Here is what is going to happen: We are going to start playing January 1st. Will we have fans in the building? We don’t know yet, but here is the schedule, here is what we are going to do. Let’s lock in all of our best customers and give them certainty that the season is going to be played.” And then figure this playoff out.

Burke on neutral sites:

The one city everyone agrees is perfect is Vegas because you could lock down a city block with three hotels in walking distance from the arena, give each team a floor of a hotel, quarantine them away from each other, quarantine the kitchen staff that will cook just for that team. There are so many moving parts, but you need testing for all the athletes and staff. You are going to have 30 players — because you are going to have black aces if you are doing playoff games — six coaches, five trainers, GMs and assistant GMs. You are looking at easily 45-50 people per team.

We are going to test all of those people, and their bus driver. We are going to test them every day? I just don’t know how logistically every day. But in Vegas, you could lock down a number of teams and keep them safe and play. This is all about safety.

Barrie: “We’ve got as good of a chance as any with the skill on our team” (TSN)
Tyson Barrie joined TSN to discuss his tumultuous first season in Toronto and how he likes the Leafs’ odds if the season resumes.

I am not sure I ever gave enough credit to guys who get traded and have to change their whole lives and move and come into a new team and fit in right away. It is a little tougher than I gave credit for. I am glad to have had the experience to see that first hand.

Obviously, it was a bit of a slow start for me — probably the slowest of my career — so it was disappointing in that way. Once there was a coaching change, I think the style of play maybe fit my game a little better. I think the whole team started to play well after that.
I learned I can have a really rough patch and if you just stay with what got you there in the first place — your work ethic… I didn’t try to change my game, which I am proud of myself for. I was obviously trying to improve, but just be true to the type of player I am and have been. I am grateful it turned for me.

Barrie on his confidence in the team if the season resumes:

I think we have as good of a chance as anybody with the skill on our team, and we’re a fairly young team. if anybody can come out of this thing ready to rock, I think it is going to be us. We have some guys with incredible talent. It will be interesting to see what the games are like with no fans and all of that, but I know that we’ve got skill and speed and youth on our side.

I think we should have no problems coming out of this thing. It’s not ideal, but at a time like this, how could anything be traditional? The integrity will be there because it is still going to be the best players in the world playing against each other for the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. It will certainly be weird, but we all have to adapt and be willing to adapt and realize it is not going to be this perfect, classic NHL playoffs. For the situation that we are in, for a year, I think that is fine.

LeBrun: NHL awaiting NHLPA approval of return to play plan (The Athletic)
Pierre LeBrun has the latest on how close we’re getting to a return-to-play plan being put in place.

The NHL is awaiting word from the NHL Players’ Association on the latest version of a return to play format, sources said on Thursday.

The NHLPA’s Executive Board had a call scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Thursday to discuss the 24-team format. Will that call lead to an actual vote on Thursday night? Or, will the 31 player reps on the board ask for more time to discuss the proposal further with their respective teammates? Or possibly still, will the board instruct the players on the Return to Play Committee to go back to the league with more format tweaks? According to sources, all three are a legitimate possibility.

Jack Han on Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (The Hockey Tactics)
No longer a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey research and development department, Jack Han provides some insight on Leaf prospect Semyon Der-Arguchintsev over at his new hockey newsletter, The Hockey Tactics.

SDA’s production fell to 46 points and just six goals the following OHL season, unfathomable for a forward prospect on track for the NHL. But for all of his flaws the Leafs’ development staff and I loved him still.