After over two months without hockey, it appears the NHL will give some details of a return-to-play plan in the near future.
Here are five things rattling around in my brain about the potential completion of the season:
1) I’m not a fan of the 24-team format that has gained momentum in recent days. This would give the Montreal Canadiens (12th in the East with 71 points in 71 games) and the Chicago Blackhawks (12th in the West with 72 points in 70 games) a shot at the Stanley Cup. Enough hockey was already played to determine that those teams don’t belong in the playoffs. If the NHL wants to give bubble teams a shot, then have a play-in round in each conference with 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9.
2) Under the proposed format, the Oilers would be seeded fifth in the West and play Chicago in the play-in round. Note that it’s being called a “play-in” round and not actual playoffs. So if the Hawks upset the Oilers, the Oilers wouldn’t be considered to have made the playoffs despite having the 12th best points percentage in the league.
3) When it comes to the stats and trends, can we even talk about those in the context of it being the same season? So what if the Oilers have the second-ranked penalty kill? If the season restarts in August, they’ll have gone almost four months without being shorthanded. On the flip side, players and teams who were struggling would have a chance to salvage their seasons with a big playoff.
4) It’ll be interesting to see the results if the full NHLPA membership votes on the return-to-play format. No doubt players are wired to play and fire up their competitive instincts. But we’ve already heard players voice their concerns about potentially being away from their families for an extended period. Does every player think finishing the season is a priority as the world fights a pandemic? I get the sense there is a significant number of players who would have serious reservations about finishing the season.
5) Edmonton remains a strong contender to be a hub city for an NHL restart, but I don’t think it’s slam dunk. Vegas is appealing because of all the hotel space, but its drawback is a lack of sheets of ice for practices and morning skates. Just speculating here, but I wonder if the NHL ultimately chooses three cities? Two for the first two rounds, then the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final are in Vegas.