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If NHL goes straight to 16-team playoffs, Islanders could qualify: Here’s how

Barry Trotz and the Islanders might back their way into the playoffs if the NHL jumps right into the postseason. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The NHL’s postponement couldn’t have come at a better time for the New York Islanders. 

Obviously, there are a million things wrong with that statement because we are amid a global pandemic that is ravaging through the United States. There are much larger problems of dire importance that need to be addressed that have nothing to do with sports. 

Sports are trivial, at the end of the day compared to what we’re going through. 

But sports creates a nice distraction from the harrowing rut that we’ve found ourselves in over the last three weeks. So it’s nice to discuss and debate about scenarios that aren’t necessarily life-and-death. 

Which is why the hockey’s freeze following the coronavirus outbreak might actually help the Islanders — even though it’s under circumstances that no one on the planet wants. 

The Islanders were in a tailspin when play was postponed on March 12. 

A franchise-record 17-game point streak from earlier in the season was completely erased thanks to a 13-16-8 stretch since Dec. 17. 

From Feb. 13 to March 10, the Islanders lost 11 of 13 games, including a current seven-game losing streak that was put has been put on hold.

Their plummet saw them drop out of the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture as they sit just one point out of the final wild-card spot behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, who played two more games than them.

The Islanders are one of two teams that have played a league-low 68 games this season, which is throwing a wrench into the NHL’s future plans. 

It was announced earlier this week that NHL players must extend their self-quarantine through April 15 — a notion that will further push back a hypothetical re-start to the season. 

Given the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus outbreak, it is impossible to set a concrete date to get back on the ice, but the initial hope suggests that play could resume in June. 

To give the players some semblance of an offseason before the start of the 2020-21 season — which usually begins in October — the NHL could very well jump straight into the playoffs when things pick back up. 

That means no more regular-season games, no chance for teams to play an identical amount of games. It’s had some call for an expanded playoff format, allowing as many as 10 or 12 teams per conference make the cut. 

However, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic reported on Thursday that the NHL has “discussed a centralized scenario in which the 16-team playoffs get played in four cities.”

While neutral sites allow for games to be played in the safest areas, a 16-team format is the status quo.

To ensure the proper teams make the playoffs despite a different amount of games being played, the NHL would have to set the playoff seeding by points percentage — meaning the Islanders (.588 pts%) would still get in as the second wild-card team:

 

Eastern Conference standings- Point Percentage

Metropolitan Division

1) Washington Capitals- .652

2) Philadelphia Flyers- .645

3) Pittsburgh Penguins- .623

Atlantic Division

1) Boston Bruins- .714

2) Tampa Bay Lightning- .657

3) Toronto Maple Leafs – .579

Wild Card

1) Carolina Hurricanes- .596

2) New York Islanders- .588

 

It’s the definition of backing into the playoffs, but if this is the route the NHL takes, the Islanders will benefit from it. 

Suddenly, they would take the ice with a clean slate and on even footing as the momentum gained from the first three-quarters of the season has been wiped out. 

That bodes well for a defense-first Islanders team, which could possibly get top defenseman Adam Pelech back healthy depending on how his Achilles injury heals. It was originally forecasted that the blueliner would miss the rest of the 2019-20 season when he suffered the freak injury during warmups back in January, but general manager Lou Lamoriello could not disclose if he would have been available for the originally-scheduled playoffs. 

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