The National Hockey League revealed their post-COVID-19 playoff format and the Winnipeg Jets will be facing the Calgary Flames in a best-of-five playoff qualifying series whenever hockey resumes, most likely in August.
Jets forward Andrew Copp admits there’s no flawless way to resume play after what will be more than a four-month absence and he’s just fine with the new 24-team format.
“It’s interesting,” Copp said. “I think there’s no real perfect way to do it. Kinda wanted to give everyone that basically had a chance, an opportunity to play their way into the playoffs, so, like I said, there’s no perfect way to do it. But feel like it’s a good way to go about it.
“I feel like that’s probably the fairest way, especially for us. We don’t really feel like one way or the other. This is unfair or more fair than any other situation. We’re just kinda anxious to go out and play.”
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff echoed Copp’s sentiments on the new playoff format.
“I’m sure there were 31 different opinions solicited to the league office,” Cheveldayoff said. “I think everyone had their voice heard. So from that standpoint, I really applaud the outcome of at least the format that they’ve come up with.”
In any other year, it usually takes 16 wins after the end of the regular season to hoist the Stanley Cup. But with a 24-team format and the NHL yet to determine how many games each series will go, be it either five games or a seven gamer — it will now take as many as 19 wins to hoist the cup. But while the bottom-eight teams in each conference are battling it out in a gruelling series, the top four teams will only be playing a three-game round robin.
So Copp sees both sides of the coin.
“The disadvantage is you have to basically win another round to win the Stanley Cup,” Copp said. “But with that said, I think you are also getting an opportunity — you’re kinda coming in cold as is Calgary. So you’re on a level playing field there, but if we’re to win the series and move on — we would have kinda already gone through some very intense, high strung games.
“They would have just played a few round-robin games and defacto pre-season games where they haven’t really been as battle-tested. It could be a real advantage for us in the beginning of the next series after that. But otherwise, I don’t really think there’s a whole lot of advantages or disadvantages.”
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NHL rosters will consist of 30 players with teams expected to use 28 skaters. With Sami Niku and Luca Sbisa believed to be healed from their injuries, it leaves the Jets with 26 healthy players. So they’ll need the services of at least two players from the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose.
Bryan Little has been out of the lineup since November after being struck in the head by a puck. While he hasn’t been ruled out of the playoffs yet, he still has more testing later this summer before he can be cleared to play again.
“I don’t think he’s been ruled out, but I wouldn’t take that as he’s been ruled in,” Cheveldayoff said. “There’s some doctors appointments that were supposed to happen in the latter part of the summer. And those will be again something that we’ll kinda adhere to.
“I can’t really give you a definitive answer as to what Bryan’s status may or may not be.”
The Jets were victorious in overtime in their one and only meeting with the Flames this past season in the Heritage Classic, and Copp sounded relieved to finally have an opponent to prepare for.
“It’s gonna be quick. If you’re not ready to go right away, you’re going to be going back home.”
Copp is currently self-isolating in Michigan and said the 14-day quarantine when returning to Canada will prevent him from coming back to Winnipeg right away.
“I’ve been training off the ice and I feel like going back and sitting in my apartment for two straight weeks in Winnipeg is not going to be good for me mentally or physically,” Copp said. “I want to be on the ice, but really in the voluntary phase, the two-week quarantine that the Canadian government has right now is pretty much, will deter me from coming back until the start of training camp, or that gets lifted.”
Copp has yet to resume skating again but is contemplating going back to Florida where he can get back on the ice. He’s anxious to take his training to the next level, but admits it’s hard not knowing when he has to be back in game shape.
“You want to ramp up, but you’re still anxiously awaiting a timeline,” Copp said. “There’s still lots to be determined timeline-wise and you don’t want to really overstress yourself too much now and then have the timeline continue to get pushed because by the time playoffs start, you don’t want to be burned out.”
Under the NHL’s return to play plan each team will only be allowed 50 personnel and the league will conduct comprehensive testing for COVID-19,
“There’s going to be limitations as to what and who’s going to be able to be around the team,” Cheveldayoff said. “Everything that’s going to be done is going to be done to try and preserve the safety and the sanctity of that kinda group around the players.”
But Copp still has some concerns.
“The long-term health risks that we just really don’t know a whole lot about at this point,” Copp said.
After play was halted in March, Jets assistant coach Todd Woodcroft accepted the head coaching job with the University of Vermont men’s hockey team. Moose head coach Pascal Vincent is expected to help fill the void until the Jets can hire a new assistant coach during the off-season.