WASHINGTON — The National Hockey League (NHL) has come out with a plan to have a 24-team playoff, so what will that mean for the Washington Capitals going forward?
The Capitals have captured the Metropolitan Division for the fifth straight year, as the NHL looks to go straight into the playoffs if it can start back up.
As of now, the proposed plan (which is a template, not official) would have the Caps as a top-four team in the Eastern Conference and would have the team compete for seeding through round-robin tournaments.
This means the Caps would have a chance to be the top seed in the Eastern Conference, our at minimum, a fourth seed.
The Caps could also be playing at a variety of cities that the NHL will look to play games. These games are expected to be played without fans in a few locations. The league has not yet determined those sites, though Edmonton, Alberta, Columbus, Ohio, Toronto and Las Vegas were believed to be among the possibilities.
When the Caps ended the regular season, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, the team's record was 41-20 through 69 games. With the regular season now in the books, Alex Ovechkin has won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL’s top goal scorer. It is his ninth time winning it.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said the decision is not a guarantee that games are coming back. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association must still figure out health and safety protocols and solve other issues, including where to play.
Still, ironing out a format represents significant progress since global sports were basically shut down in March as the coronavirus outbreak turned into a pandemic. Bettman has said the goal has always been to play again and award the Stanley Cup, but details remain uncertain and there is no announced timetable of any kind.
Earlier this week, the league and NHLPA issued extensive protocols once players are allowed to return to their facilities. They include a maximum of six players on the ice at a time, no contact and no coaches for voluntary workouts. Teams at some point would likely hold three-week retraining camps.
Instead of limiting the Cup chase to the usual 16 teams that qualify for the playoffs, the league and players agreed to expand the field to 24 of its 31 teams because of the unusual circumstances.