Toronto Maple Leafs: Examining impact of proposed playoff format

With the NHL making plans towards a return to play, we look at the impact the proposed playoff format will have on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After nearly two months of wondering what the fate of the 2019-20 season will be, it feels like it’s getting close to the point of knowing when the Toronto Maple Leafs will get back on the ice.

There still seem to be some details to iron out but one thing that we know for sure, the NHL is committed to getting the season started again. Some might not be on board with the idea of resuming play but the NHL certainly feels they can’t just sit back as every other league attempts to return as well.

Whether or not Toronto is chosen as a hub city still seems to a possibility, but the real question that needs to be answered is how the league handles the rest of the regular season and playoffs? There has been a lot of discussion around a proposed post-season format that would include 24 teams, so that those close to the playoff bubble can be included.

An obvious concern is including a team like the Montreal Canadiens or Chicago Blackhawks who essentially were not considered a lock for the playoffs, and they eliminate a top team in a knockout scenario. This is why Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes the NHL would like to go with a round-robin format first.

So how exactly would this playoff format impact the Leafs? It’s tough to know for sure without having a concrete idea of who they will play and how long the series will be, but there’s a good chance they might not even play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round like many were expecting.

That might actually be a good thing for Toronto considering the Lightning would have Steven Stamkos back at full strength which is an obvious boost for them. Any changes to the current playoff format would provide the NHL a chance to realize it needs to be abolished.

It has been made known by players, fans and even some in the front office, that the current format where the first two rounds of the playoffs are played within the division offers up mismatches that see some good teams play each other right off the start.

In some scenarios you see two heavily favoured teams go against each other in the second round. Most would say that the earlier rounds over the past few years have been more entertaining and engaging than the latter and it seems counterproductive, considering it should be the other way around in the playoffs.

“I’m not sure I’m completely 100 per cent sold on any format,” Leafs captain John Tavares told Sports Illustrated. “But the biggest thing is honouring the regular season as best as we can while still giving each team that deserves the opportunity, or still has an opportunity to make the playoffs, to be a part of that.”

What Tavares is saying is definitely important – a team that has been pushing to make the playoffs shouldn’t have their season end on because of circumstances beyond their control. Also, you get the sense that he is not exactly sold on the current format being discussed either.

On one hand, having playoff hockey to watch at a time will be refreshing considering there hasn’t been anything to watch in terms of live hockey. On the other hand, there will be the talk about the big asterisk associated with any team that wins this season.

You can bet that on the off chance the Leafs were able to win the Stanley Cup this season, people would do their best to devalue it because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s not the ideal way to win a championship, the one thing people should keep in mind is that every team is dealing with the same challenges and circumstances.

It’s not like the Blackhawks’ Cup win from the 2013 lockout-shortened season isn’t being looked at differently even though they didn’t play an entire season.

So whatever decision is made, you can bet the league and the players will try their best to do what is right for the season and it will be refreshing to have hockey back in our lives again.

Next: 5 free agent defencemen for the Leafs to target

What do you think about the proposed playoff format? Do you think it would benefit the Leafs or would you rather have the current format? Let us know in the comments below. 

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