When Gary Bettman announced the NHL’s return-to-play plan on Tuesday, there was certainly a lot to unpack. Details about the playoff structure, finalists for hub cities which will host the playoff games and draft lottery info were all revealed. There were still several questions that remained unanswered, like when the hub cities would be announced and ultimately when the playoffs would begin and how long each series would be.
One thing that was confirmed is the Flyers place in all of this. With the regular season officially over, they are locked in as the fourth seed in the Top 4 of the Eastern Conference, meaning they will not be subject to the qualifying round that teams seeded 5 through 12 will.
That alone is a victory for the Flyers. The last thing any team should want to do is go through training camp and have to come back and play very meaningful games with your season on the line in a best-of-five series. The Flyers will simply participate in a Round Robin tournament with the other three teams at the top of the Eastern Conference with no risk of losing their place among the final 16 teams left in the playoff picture.
But it gets better for the Flyers. As the fourth seed, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
In this Round Robin tournament between the Top 4 teams, there will be re-seeding done based on the results. While typical regular-season tiebreakers will apply, the formula for the Flyers as a four-seed is pretty simple: win all three games against Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington -- the other three at the top -- and you become the top seed in the playoffs.
The Flyers have nothing to lose from this in the sense that even if you come back cold and rusty and struggle in the first three games, losing them all, nothing changes and the Flyers would remain in the fourth seed.
Now, this could be a blessing or a curse for the Flyers in either scenario. On one hand, you could win all three games and vault to the top or lose all three and lose nothing. But losing each of the three games upon return doesn’t exactly build confidence in where the team is at that point. Similarly, winning all three games could theoretically give you a more difficult first-round matchup. In the event that the NHL decides to use a bracket-style playoff and not reseed after the qualifying round, the team that is the four-seed could play the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens if they were to beat Pittsburgh, which a team in the first seed would play the winner of the 8-seed and 9-seed matchup. That could be a disadvantage to a team like the Flyers if they were to vault to the top and then get hit with a more difficult opponent than out of the four seed.
That said, this all becomes null and void if the NHL does re-seed following the qualifying round, because it would put the lowest seeded team remaining against the top seed.
Of course, there is a lot of time before the Flyers will even know who the opponent is or where they are officially seeded in the first round. The NHL had announced on Tuesday that Phase 3 of their return plan, the start of full training camps, would not start until at least July 1. The players were informed on Thursday that Phase 3 will now start no earlier than July 10, almost certainly pushing the start of any playoff games back to August. So the Flyers will still have at least six weeks before they can get the full team back on the ice and some two months before a game will even be played.
Still, the NHL has been the one league among the four major sports that has laid out a plan with this much detail. There are plenty of hurdles still to overcome, but there is at least a plan and a goal.
It will certainly be a different Stanley Cup Playoffs than ever before, but these are unprecedented times. In a year where the playoffs will have a structure that is certainly unprecedented as well, the format just happens to favor the Flyers.
For more on the 24-team playoff format and how it benefits the Flyers, check out Kevin Durso's appearance on 97.3 ESPN from Tuesday afternoon following the announcement below: