Why Playing out the NHL Regular Season Doesn’t Matter

Reports are abound, and there’s about a million different scenarios on how the NHL will handle resuming play. Friday night, the NHL announced they’ve agreed with the NHLPA to move forward with negotiations about the league’s plan for a 24-team playoff tournament.

While negotiations are in the preliminary stages, we still don’t know if the league will resume play with the 12-or-so games remaining in the regular season, or jump right into the playoffs. Is there an advantage for teams to finish out the regular season? Absolutely there is. Teams like the New York Rangers and Islanders, Vancouver Canucks, and Nashville Predators are all salivating over the prospect of finishing the regular season. All of those teams are within mere points of climbing into the wildcard spot.

Teams in a playoff position may not want to resume regular season play. A jump straight to the playoffs may suit them best. Over the last five years, statistics have shown otherwise. During the previous five seasons, over 92% of teams in a playoff spot by March 12 have ended up making the playoffs.

2014/2015 Season

Eastern Conference

Come March 12 in 2015, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Detroit sat atop the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. Come the end of the season, those three teams remained in the same spot.

The Metropolitan Division was a little different. The Rangers and Islanders were the top two teams, followed by the Penguins on March 12. After game 82, The Rangers remained on top of the division, followed by the Capitals and the Islanders. Two of the three teams remained the same, but one was a spot lower in the division.

Pittsburgh dropped from their divisional spot to a wildcard spot, while the Ottawa Senators replaced the Boston Bruins, who held a Wildcard position on March 12 of that year. Of the eight teams who held an Eastern Conference playoff spot on March 12, seven of them remained in playoff position come season’s end.

Western Conference

The Central Division of the Western Conference saw Nashville leading the way on March 12, followed by St. Louis and Chicago. Come the end of the season, St. Louis overtook Nashville for the top spot, while Chicago stood pat at the three-seed.

The Pacific Division remained unchanged from March 12 to the end of the season. The Anaheim Ducks held onto the one-seed in the Pacific, while Vancouver and Calgary clung to the two and three seeds, respectively.

The Western Conference Wildcard saw one team drop out and another take its place. Minnesota kept ahold of the first Wildcard spot, while Los Angeles dropped out and Winnipeg took over at the end of the season.

Overall

In each conference, seven of the eight teams holding a playoff position on March 12 remained in a playoff spot come the end of the season. While the seeds shook up a bit (Pittsburgh, Washington, Nashville, etc,) the teams remained (mostly) the same.

2015/2016 Season

Eastern Conference

March 12 of 2016 saw the Bruins, Panthers, and Lightning hold onto the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. Come the end of the season, Boston had a fall from grace, dropping out of the top-eight completely and giving way to the Red Wings to claim the three-seed in the Atlantic, while Tampa claimed the two-seed and Florida the one-seed.

Washington was heading up the Metropolitan Division, with the Rangers and Islanders laying claim to the two and three seeds. The Caps would win the division, but Pittsburgh would claw their way from the second Wildcard spot to the second seed in the Metro, and the Rangers would slip to the three seed.

The Wildcard went from Detroit and Pittsburgh to the Islanders and the Flyers. The Flyers came from beneath the top-eight prior to March 12, while the Islanders fell out of the top three in the Metropolitan Division.

Western Conference

The Central Division remained the same from March 12 to the end of the season. Dallas would claim the top seed in the Central, while St. Louis and Chicago would claim two and three, respectively.

The Pacific division fielded the same three teams, just under different seeds. On March 12, Los Angeles led the way and was trailed by Anaheim and San Jose, in that order. Come season’s end, Anaheim claimed the top spot from Los Angeles, as San Jose stood pat at the three-seed.

The Wildcard saw one change. Nashville was in the Wildcard one spot from March 12 until the end of the year, while Colorado was overtaken by the Minnesota Wild.

Overall

Another year, another seven of eight playoff teams remaining the same in each conference. While many of the teams that were ahead in their divisions remained in the top three, we’ve seen at least one team on the outside looking in on March 12 make their way to a playoff spot by the end of the season.

2016/2017 Season

Eastern Conference

This one is simple. Montreal, Ottawa, and Boston were the top three in the Atlantic Division in that order on March 12. The seeds remained the same at the end of the year.

The Metropolitan Division was being led by, in this order, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Columbus, on March 12. After game 82 for each team, this is what the standings looked like once again.

Even the Wildcard remained the same, as the Rangers and Maple Leafs held onto their playoff spots between March 12 and the end of the year.

Western Conference

The Central Division saw a little change over the aforementioned span of games. The top three on March 12 was Minnesota, Chicago, and Nashville. Come the end of the season, Chicago had overtaken Minnesota for the top spot, while St. Louis beat out Nashville for the three seed.

The Pacific Division was much the same. San Jose led the way on March 12, followed by Anaheim and Calgary. Come the end of the season, Anaheim had overtaken the Sharks, and so had the Edmonton Oilers.

The two teams who had dropped out of the divisional race, the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators, had each claimed a Wildcard spot.

Overall

The Eastern Conference remained completely unchanged. All the same teams from March 12 made the playoffs, and they all remained in the same seed.

While all the teams in a playoff spot in the Western Conference made the playoffs come season’s end, none of them were in the same position as they were on March 12.

2017/2018 Season

Eastern Conference

For the second straight year, the Eastern Conference remained unchanged. Tampa led the way in the Atlantic, followed by Boston then Toronto. Washington led the way in the Metro, followed by Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Columbus and New Jersey each held onto their Wildcard spots come years end as well.

Western Conference

The Central Division remained unchanged as well. The Nashville Predators took home the title of Central’s best, while Winnipeg and Minnesota trailed close behind.

The Pacific Division was the only division that saw changes to the seeds between March 12 and the end of the season. The top seed remained the same, as the Vegas Golden Knights took home the Pacific crown in their inaugural season. San Jose led Los Angeles on March 12, but the Ducks overtook the Sharks for the second seed by the end of the year.

Dallas held the Wildcard one spot on March 12, trailed by the Colorado Avalanche. Dallas ended up with a not-so-hot finish, giving way to the Los Angeles Kings taking their Wildcard-one spot, while Colorado remained in the Wildcard two spot.

Overall

For the second straight season, the Eastern Conference was a perfect eight-for-eight in regards to teams remaining the same from March 12 to the end of the season.

The Central Division in the Western Conference remained the same as well. The Pacific Division saw one team drop to a wildcard spot while another rose from below the top-eight. Dallas couldn’t hold onto the top Wildcard spot, giving way for Anaheim to move up and bump Los Angeles out of the Pacific division top-three.

2018/2019 Season

Eastern Conference

For the third straight year, the entire Eastern Conference playoff scene was set by March 12. Every single team in a playoff spot on that date made the playoffs that season, including the wildcard teams. The Atlantic Division remained the same, with Tampa leading the way over Boston and Toronto.

The Metropolitan Division was led by the Washington Capitals, followed by the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins. the Wildcard remained the same as well, with Carolina edging out Columbus by one point for the top Wildcard spot.

Western Conference

The Central Division fielded the same three teams from March 12, but the top two teams flip-flopped. While Winnipeg led the way back in March, Nashville overtook them by the end of the season, while St. Louis held steady at the three seed in the division.

The Pacific Division saw the same results, with San Jose leading early on only to be overtaken by Calgary at year’s end. Vegas remained at the three seed within the division. The Wildcard one spot remained unchanged, as Dallas held steady at that spot. Arizona held the Wildcard two spot in March, but lost out to the Colorado Avalanche less than a month later.

Overall

There was only one team in the entire NHL that snuck their way into a playoff spot after March 12 of 2019. Otherwise, 15 of the 16 playoff teams were already staking their claim to a spot back in March of the 2018/19 season.

The Verdict

This could all be nullified if the NHL decides to skip the remainder of the regular season. The point is, however, that there wasn’t much fluctuation in the standings over the last few weeks of the season.

Playing out the rest of the year shouldn’t be the main priority for the NHL, given the fact that a majority of the teams that are in a playoff spot by March 12 end up making the playoffs anyway.

Sure, there will be teams who cry for justice, stating that it’s just not fair to end the season early. Special circumstances call for special solutions, and a solution to end the season with the standings as-is is likely the best option for the NHL at this point.

Mandatory Credit – © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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