Hockey lovers, rejoice! Hockey haters...SUCK IT!
Sorry, I'm just excited. If hockey isn't your thing, well...I'm not sure why you clicked on this blog in the first place, but I do appreciate it and do not wish for you to "suck it" (*Triple H voice*).
Anyway, let's dive right in here, because there's a TON to unpack. In case you missed today's announcement from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman or are still trying to make sense of it, I will break it down for you in good old reliable bullet-point form below:
The NHL plans to resume play this summer, but the Regular Season is now over
Instead of the usual 16 team format, 24 teams will compete for the Stanley Cup
Top 12 teams from each conference will resume play, 7 teams are eliminated
Top 4 teams in East & West will play round robin tourney to decide seeding
Although these are not regular season games, they'll use regular season rules
The bottom 8 teams will all play best of 5 series to set bottom half of playoff field
To give you a visual of what the league is planning, here it is below, per Sportsnet Canada:
Once the field is whittled down from the above 24 down to the traditional 16, the NHL is still debating whether to proceed with the traditional best-of-7 series lengths for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or if they'd go with a best-of-5 format. The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final would reportedly be the traditional best-of-7 setting. Finally, rather than playing on each respective team's home ice, games will take place (without fans) in hub cities, the identities of which have yet to be finalized. Cities currently being considered to serve as hubs are in the U.S are: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh; Canadian cities being considered are: Edmonton, Toronto (insert clever Maple Leafs-related playoff hockey joke here), and Vancouver.
So, that's about it. Gary Bettman was adamant that things are very much still fluid at this time, as we're definitely still a good two months away at least from seeing any NHL games played. Similar to what's been discussed in the NBA's proposed return to play plans, an impromptu training camp will be held, in order to assist players in getting back into game shape. The earliest that the league thinks it could begin camp would be July 1st, but again, depending on how things develop around North America with this pandemic, that start date could always be pushed back. It is refreshing, nevertheless, to see that the wheels are in motion on a return to play that figures to be safe for all parties involved. Let's cross our fingers and hope that this plan can continue to move forward as planned at this time.
Now, while I haven't seen any scorching hot takes come across my desk quite yet regarding the NHL's plan, I'm sure there are some floating out there on the interwebs. After all, this format seems to be rewarding a lot of bottom dwelling teams who had an uphill shot at making the postseason with a chance to lock in a spot through a 5 game series after a 4+ month hiatus from playing any kind of meaningful games. At the same time, teams like the Bruins, Capitals, Blues and Knights would have had top seeds in a standard postseason by virtue of winning their respective divisions. Those teams now have to battle with teams seeded below them just to potentially retain what they had already earned. You can definitely make the argument that there are some teams getting shafted as part of this proposal.
Additionally, timing is a pretty big factor in this NHL proposal, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs typically start in early April and end in early or mid June. Assuming that this version of postseason play begins around mid-July and that it takes approximately the same amount of time to complete as the Stanley Cup Playoffs usually do, we're talking about crowning a Stanley Cup Champion around mid-to-late September. While that would be one hell of a birthday present for yours truly if the Bruins were to win it all (September 16th, folks, mark your calendars), we're then talking about drastically altering the 2020-21 NHL season, which would usually begin in early October. Would the league proceed with an abbreviated season, something that starts around the start of December, so that things can wrap up in mid June as usual? If so, what would that format look like? Like I said, a lot of moving parts here.
Bottom line: after nearly two and a half months of no sports and working from home (it's been even longer than that since I've gotten a haircut), I'm just happy that we have an opportunity to talk about the potential for live sports again. No, it won't quite be the same as how things were before the pandemic. Yes, there is a fairly large chance that things could go off the rails or that several people will complain if they don't like the outcome. But at the end of the day, anything that brings us back to even a slight form of normalcy is welcome in my mind. If you know anything about me, you know how much I love hockey, so today's news, despite being somewhat incomplete or flawed, excites the hell out of me.
I've been waiting months to say this again, so here goes nothing:
WHAT. THE. PUCK.