The idea of a round-robin is totally foreign to the NHL. Since the inception of the league in 1917, the Stanley Cup champions have always been determined by a regular season followed by playoffs.
With the pandemic throwing a wrench in the works, for the first time ever there will be a regular season, albeit truncated, followed by a round-robin plus a play-in round, and then a 16 team playoff with re-seeding after each round.
It’s unprecedented in the NHL but it’s not in the sport of hockey. In fact, the largest international tournament of the year uses a round-robin every single year. That’s the IIHF World Championship which consists mostly of NHL players who have been eliminated from the playoffs. In addition to that tournament, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey used a round-robin and the Olympics have used it for decades.
I think this is going to be a lot more similar to what you would have seen at a World Cup. The best players in the world got together and played extremely entertaining and competitive hockey. -Kelly McCrimmon
The difference in most of these tournaments, compared to the NHL’s round-robin is that it is not only used for seeding but to eliminate teams.
Take for instance the 2016 World Cup, the United States went winless through three games and found themselves headed home before the knockout stages even began. That’s not possible for the Golden Knights in this round-robin.
However, it can be characterized similar to that of the IIHF round-robin which includes eight teams in each pool. In that tournament, the top teams are really at no risk of missing out on the knockout rounds because there are really only six or seven legitimate contenders in the 16 team field. That being said, the round-robin games certainly impact the path to the final and in many cases help to determine a champion.
In the previous eight IIHF World Championships, which have all used the eight-team round-robin system, a winner of one of the pools has gone on to win reach the final of the tournament. However, not a single one of the eight tournaments saw both round-robin winners advance to the final.
A round-robin winner won four championships while a team finishing 3rd or worse was crowned champions twice.
Clearly, the games matter, but like many have speculated with the NHL’s round-robin, it won’t be the end of the world to finish 3rd or 4th compared to 1st or 2nd.
We were really pleased with the round-robin format because it makes games meaningful. The stakes are much higher. -McCrimmon
The Golden Knights will play Colorado, St. Louis, and Dallas in their three round-robin games which will determine the seeding for the remainder of the playoffs. Re-seeding each round makes the games have the most importance they possibly can, but there’s still little to no repercussions to lose them all as 4th place still advances to the real first round of the playoffs.
Pete DeBoer will have plenty of options of how he wants to approach those games and his decision will likely have an impact on the rest of the playoffs following the round-robin.
Will he rotate goalies? Experiment with different lines and pairs? Give multiple players starts? Roll four lines? Or will he go all in and treat them like the actual playoffs?
There’s no right answer today, but there will be one when it all unfolds in a couple of months.