The 2020 postseason will be unlike any other and, as a result, there are a lot of unknowns. As the July 10 start to training camp approaches, let's look at the biggest unknowns facing the Capitals.
Today's question: How will the round robin affect the playoffs?
We may know who the 24 teams competing in the 2020 postseason are, but we still don't know the order of the top four seeds in either conference. The Capitals are among the top teams in the Eastern Conference and will play a round robin tournament with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers to determine seeding.
This is something completely new that we don't see in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here's what we know. Washington will play three games, one against each team. The games will be played under regular season rules meaning no continuous overtime. The team with the best record will get the top seed and will play the lowest seed out of the play-in round as teams will be reseeded after each round.
And that's about it.
What we don't know is what these games will look like. It is believed each team will get only one exhibition game before the postseason officially begins. That means these round-robin games will be the first meaningful games any of these teams will play in several months. Reseeding definitely gives a benefit to the higher-seeded team, but is it worth enough for the teams to compete as hard as a playoff game? Will the players and coaches approach the round robin as more exhibition games or will they compete hard for them like playoff games?
Obviously each team will want to win each game, no one is questioning that, but one of these four teams could conceivably lose all three games and all that would mean is starting the playoffs as the fourth seed. These are not do-or-die games meaning there will not be as much urgency or pressure and that makes some of the coaching decisions difficult.
Let's look at Washington's goalie situation as an example. Braden Holtby is the team's No. 1 goalie. He will want to play in as many games as possible and, as the No. 1, if these were playoff games there is no question the plan would be for him to start. But what about Ilya Samsonov? Does it make sense to give him a start in one of these round-robin games to get him playing time before an actual playoff series? You wouldn't plan on getting Samsonov a start in the playoffs just so he can stay fresh for October, but again, these are not elimination games. Should Todd Reirden go all-in on the round-robin and try to take the top seed or should his coaching decisions be made strictly with an eye on preparing for the playoffs?
With no previous example to go on from the modern NHL, coaches and teams are in unchartered territory here.
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