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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

|Archive

For the first time since the National Hockey League hit pause on March 12, commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged Tuesday that the regular season might not be completed.

“The best thing and easiest thing would be if we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do, but we understand that may not be possible,” Bettman said in an interview with NBCSN.

“That’s why we’re considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”

The bulk of NHL stars who have spoken publicly – from Connor McDavid to Sergei Bobrovsky – have been resolute in their wish for regular-season action before stepping into the Stanley Cup playoff pressure cooker.

Short of playing out the remaining 15 per cent of the schedule, the ideal scenario would be to at least get all 31 teams to a level ice surface in terms of games played.

But even that would be tricky now. Eight teams have played as many as 71 games, while two others (Carolina and the Islanders) have played as few as 68. Creating a balanced shortened schedule, in which each team would play the same number of warm-up games before the playoffs while finishing with the same number of total games played for the season would be nearly impossible.

To date, the idea of points percentage has received the most attention for determining a 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket.

But there may be another, more equitable, way if the regular season is cancelled.

THE 68-GAME ROLLBACK

The Ontario Hockey League deserves credit for the idea. Since all of the OHL’s teams had played at least 61 games when the season was cancelled, their priority draft lottery standings were formulated using each’s teams accrued point total through 61 games.

In other words, any game beyond 61 played was wiped out.

The same principle could apply for the NHL. Call it the 68-game rollback. 

Under this plan, only each of the team’s first 68 games of the season would count for the playoff standings. 

Eight teams would have three games negated, 11 teams, two each; and 10 teams, one each.

Interestingly, the same 16 teams that would qualify under points percentage would also qualify under the 68-game rollback scenario.

Point Percentage

Central Division                                             
1 St. Louis vs. WC2 Calgary               
2 Colorado vs. 3 Dallas                        

Pacific Division                                  
1 Vegas vs. WC2 Nashville    
2 Edmonton vs. 3 Vancouver              

Metropolitan Division 
1 Washington vs. WC1 Carolina          
2 Philadelphia vs. 3 Pittsburgh             

Atlantic Division
1 Boston vs. WC2 Islanders                
2 Tampa vs. 3 Toronto                        

68-Game Rollback

Central Division
1 Colorado vs. WC2 Vancouver
2 St. Louis vs. 3 Dallas

Pacific Division
1 Vegas vs. WC1 Nashville
2 Edmonton vs. 3 Calgary       

Metropolitan Division
1 Philadelphia vs. WC1 Carolina
2 Washington vs. 3 Pittsburgh

Atlantic Division
1 Boston vs. WC2 Islanders
2 Tampa vs. 3 Toronto

The matchups would be juicier in the 68-game rollback. A Battle of Alberta, Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin, plus Vegas versus NashVegas ­– all in the first round – would qualify as sensory overload.

The rollback could be perceived as the more equitable solution to an untenable problem because it eliminates the debate between points accumulated and points percentage. 

With an unbalanced number of games played, teams with more points say they’ve actually earned the points, while those with fewer games say they were robbed of the opportunity to do so.

It is also not unprecedented. Twice in the last 25 years, with two lockouts in 2013 and 1995, the Stanley Cup playoffs began after a shortened 48-game schedule.