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NHL’s Round Robin Has Similarities to IIHF World Championship

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.


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  1. Tim

    I think after St. Louis, Colorado, and us who you play really doesn’t matter much all other teams are fairly equal. I’d still like to be seated #1 if for no other reason the intimidation factor.

  2. Doktor Hockey

    Yep! As we have discussed a few weeks ago right here. Finishing 1st is usually better than not. (but won’t kill anyone’s chances, if not) If nothing else it gives the top 4 a chance to play 3 “meaningful” games while the others are doing their best of 5s. About the best they could’ve come up with IMO !!!!!

  3. THE hockey GOD

    the should play the games outside in full daylight (Sun’s IV rays) to mitigate the spread of the chinese wuhan virus, when the ice melts they can give the player lacrosse sticks, change the puck to a ball and when it gets too hot out there they can dress them up like soccer players

    or turn it into floor hockey…roller hockey ??? There you go !!

    BETTMAN is clueless, after one week half the teams will be decimated with the CWV.

  4. Doktor Hockey

    Ahh yes! Stupidity is alive and well! ;)

    • THE hockey GOD

      what part of contagious nature of Chicom Wuhan Corona Virus is not clear to you hockey duck ?

  5. Hockey return a real plus – format probably the best they could do under the current circumstances. Conversation from players which of course you would expect suggests winning will probably be as difficult if not more so than the way it has taken place since 1917. It will prove interesting with players quarantined etc and everything else necessary. The reruns on sorbet have been interesting despite only showing the wins. Yr 1 guys ran out of steam by the time they hit the finals unfortunately and a r eww al shame as they had a great chance to win it all – probably better then than now. I hope they prove me wrong and they get the chance to raise the cup. They have the skill they just need to have yr 1 attitude to go with it.

  6. Doktor Hockey

    I agree HD. Each year they have increased the talent on the team. The year 1 “attitude” just never will be duplicated. (how could it) But I think the mindset of these guys now is that they know they have the talent to win the cup and they will put out a great effort to do so!

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