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Jets' Wheeler: 24-team playoffs could give bubble teams an edge

Patrick Smith / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler believes a 24-team playoff format could offer bubble teams a leg up on the competition.

"I think what you need to be really conscientious of in this situation is that there are some teams that've had incredible regular seasons and you don't want to handicap them as well," Wheeler said on Wednesday's edition of "Dreger Cafe."

"I think the hard thing would be to have the bubble teams play a play-in and all of the sudden now Boston or St. Louis or Colorado who've been at the top of the standings all year, they're sitting there cold and have to play a team that's already played a three-to-five game series and they're coming in hot."

As part of the NHL's effort to avoid the issue Wheeler is concerned about, the latest reported playoff format would see the top four teams in each conference play tune-up games against each other while the clubs ranked from No. 5 to No. 12 (by points percentage) in each conference would participate in best-of-five play-in series. The tune-up contests may not share the same intensity as the play-in games, though.

Wheeler's Jets currently occupy the ninth seed in the Western Conference based on points percentage. The reported proposal would pit them against the Calgary Flames for the play-in series.

The veteran winger added that he isn't against the idea of an expanded playoff field but believes there must be meaningful games for all teams beforehand.

"When I say the games matter, I'm talking about do-or-die situations come up so that the players are in somewhat decent shape and so that the competitive balance is intact," Wheeler said.

Meanwhile, Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene said Tuesday that he'd like to see the playoffs carried out in a more traditional fashion to avoid a "COVID Cup," where fans and pundits may place an asterisk beside the champion.

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