Answering all your questions about the preliminary games, round robin, and how this could affect future seasons
Why did the NHL choose 24 teams?
No doubt the reason the NHL chose 24 teams is because they simply don't want fringe playoff teams not making it because the season got cut off. Also, they don't want a huge debate over whether they should be using total points, or points per game. If you look at the bottom of the playoffs in the Western Conference, Winnipeg would make the playoffs if the NHL used points, but Vancouver would take their place if it was done with PPG. Having a situation like that would be a nightmare.
Also, it doesn't hurt having more teams and more games. In a season that lost of lot of money because it was cut off short, the "Wild Card" round makes up for that as well. It also means more hockey, and more hockey is always a good thing.
Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils fans might be a little upset, because if their teams had won both of their last two games, they would have had more points than Montreal, who made the preliminary round. The answer to them is honestly, they don't deserve to be there. A bottom four team in a conference is not going to make the playoffs, and even if they got into this system, it's not like they were going to win the Stanley Cup.
The top four teams might change, but this is what the playoff field would look like right now:
There is a lot still up in the air in terms of the round robin games. I am "pro" round robin, because the top four teams obviously need to get their legs under them before the playoffs. There are many ways that it can be done though.
The way I think it should be executed would go like this: Each of the top four teams start the round robin games with the amount of points they earned in the regular season. In the Eastern Conference, the Bruins should start with 100 points, the Tampa Bay Lightning with 92 points, the Washington Capitals with 90 points, and the Flyers with 90 points. Each team would play the other three teams, with games worth the same amount as a normal regular season game. That way, teams will play meaningful games, but they won't completely flip things around.
Another way to do the round robin would be to give the first seed four points, the second seed three points, then two points, and then one. The order would be able to change more than in the previous idea, but the higher seeds would still have an advantage.
I fear that the NHL will just completely wipe away what those four teams did in the regular season. It seems likely that they will just have each team play each other, and determine the top four seeds solely based off of that. Hopefully that doesn't happen. If one team was better than another through the regular season, they should not be given a clean slate.
I believe that the 24 team format is not a bad one, but could have been better. The ideal amount of teams in my opinion would be 20. This is shown in the bracket to the right. That way you don't have any really poor teams that had an incredibly low chance of making the playoffs. In the West, there would be no controversies, but in the East, Florida and the New York Rangers might have to play each other to earn the 10 seed (Florida has a higher PPG, but New York has more points).
The preliminary games should be interesting, especially because they will be just five game series. It should make for some very exciting hockey.
How this could affect future seasons?
I clearly don't want the playoffs to keep the 24 team system in the future, but the NHL could still change their playoffs. I mentioned this earlier, but I am a big supporter of bringing the playoffs back to the 1 seed plays the 8, 2 vs. the 7, and so on. The NHL thinks that they are boosting viewership by creating division rivalries in the playoffs, but it's just not true.
First of all, rivalries find each other in the playoffs no matter what system is used. You don't need to force that. The Bruins and Montreal have played each other 34 times in the postseason, and not once since the playoff change. Another thing is, do we really want to be playing the same team every year? Go ask Toronto Maple Leafs fans and I'm pretty sure they will give you a pretty definitive answer.
If the NHL was smart, they would learn from this year that fans want the best teams advancing. We don't want the one and two seeds facing each other in the second round.
As always, feel free to let us know what you think of the system in the comments below!