NHL Playoff Primer: Everything you need to know ahead of post-season

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) saves the breakaway attempt by Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau (13) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 5, 2018. (John Woods/CP)

This all feels a bit weird, right?

Though we’ve had weeks to talk about how the Stanley Cup Playoffs were about to become a two-city, August-to-September experience, it’s still hard to wrap your brain around the fact that, come next weekend, we’ll be watching live post-season NHL hockey from lunchtime until midnight.

As a range of sports continue to make long-awaited returns, we figured it might be useful to have cheat sheet for a summer hockey session that figures to be unlike anything we’ve seen. In case you’ve forgotten — because you’ve got nothing else on your mind these days, right? — here are some need-to-knows about this puck extravaganza happening in Toronto and Edmonton.

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

Who is in and how are we doing this?

The NHL ranked teams by points percentage and put the top 12 from each conference into the post-season. The best four teams in the East and West will play one game against each of the other three clubs to receive a bye in its conference to determine seeds No. 1 to No. 4 for the main draw of the playoffs. Those games will be decided by the usual regular season three-on-three overtime and shootout rules if necessary, and any ties in the round-robin standings will be broken by teams’ regular-season points percentage.

Teams five through 12 on each side are playing a preliminary round featuring best-of-five series, with the No. 5 seed facing No. 12, No. 6 squaring off against No. 11 and so on. These games will not use three-on-three overtime or shootouts; extra time is 20-minute periods until we have a winner.

Collectively, these games are being put under the umbrella of 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. All player statistics from these contests will count toward playoff totals. So if you score three goals during the Qualifiers and 10 more in the playoffs, for the purpose of the history books, your total for the 2020 post-season is 13.

Once eight teams emerge from the qualifying round, the main playoff draw will appear as it always does with four rounds of best-of-seven series. There is no March Madness-style bracket this year for the first time since the 2013 playoffs. Instead, the highest-seeded team at the start of each round will play the lowest-seeded team, as was the case for many years before the league moved to a four-division format in 2013-14.

Each team is getting started with one exhibition game that will occur beginning on Tuesday.

What’s up with the Draft Lottery?

As you likely recall, when it came time to reveal who would select first overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, deputy commissioner Bill Daly flipped over a card with an NHL logo on it. As should have been expected based on the math, a “placeholder” team — meaning one of the 16 squads playing in the preliminary round — had its number called for the top pick. Each of the eight teams that lose a best-of-five series — regardless of where they finished in the regular season — will have a 12.5 per cent chance to pick first overall in October.

The second and final phase of the lottery will happen before the first round of the main Stanley Cup tournament.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Who does he play for now?

The trade deadline fell on Feb. 24 this year, so we only had about two-and-a-half weeks to get used to seeing guys who moved on or around that day in their new surroundings before the league went on hiatus.

Here’s a quick refresher on some of the moves made five months ago. The Carolina Hurricanes created a huge splash, picking up defencemen Brady Skjei (from the Rangers) and Sami Vatanen (from the Devils). Carolina also may have found a No. 2 centre for the next decade by fleecing the Florida Panthers for Vincent Trocheck.

The Vegas Golden Knights made a big play to get goalie Robin Lehner from Chicago in a zany three-way deal that involved the Maple Leafs so Toronto could retain 50 per cent of Lehner’s salary. The Calgary Flames padded their blue-line depth by adding Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson, moves that look even more important now that defenceman Travis Hamonic opted out of this summer event. (Remember, players had the option to skip this tournament penalty-free if they had concerns of any kind. A handful have decided to go down that route, with Edmonton’s Mike Green being the most prominent after Hamonic.)

The Penguins re-patriated Conor Sheary from Buffalo and picked up Patrick Marleau from San Jose; the Jets added middle-man Cody Eakin from Vegas and the Islanders landed crafty centre and former Ottawa Senator Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

While Green won’t be suiting up for the Oilers, they do have newcomers Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis in the mix.

Unfit to play

NHL teams have never been forthcoming with injuries — especially come playoff time — and it will be no different now that they’re bubbled up. Against the backdrop of this global pandemic, the league will offer no specifics in terms of why a certain player is not at practice or in the lineup; he will simply be declared “unfit to play.”

Consider the injury obfuscation some form of warm familiarity in these oddest of times.

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