It goes without saying that the NHL season being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic is quite the shame, and everyone simply misses hockey right now.
Just over two weeks since everything was put on hold, there’s a lot of questions that remain and a lot left to be desired. Would David Pastrnak go on to lock down the Rocket Richard? Was Auston Matthews going to break the Leafs’ franchise record for goals in a season with over 54? How much closer could Alex Ovechkin have gotten to surpassing Gretzky’s all-time goal total? Were the Canucks going to make the playoffs?
Prior to the season suspension, Alex Ovechkin was on a 57-goal pace, and of his 48 goals this season, 35 had come at even strength, which is already the fourth-highest total of his career. More info on Ovechkin and today's Caps clips at https://t.co/HecIC0ECg1. pic.twitter.com/zEaKHKZEvI
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) March 27, 2020
So many unanswered questions, and as this global pandemic lags on, seemingly getting worse by the day, particularly in North America, it’s evermore looking like these questions may never be answered.
All of these questions, however, lead to the biggest thought in everyone’s minds; Can the 2019-2020 season be salvaged at all at this rate?
NHL Aims To Resume Action
The NHL has reportedly been looking into it’s options surrounding this very question since Day 1 of the postponement. They’ve made clear that the the possibilities for how the season could resume are “almost endless”, according to NHL commissioner Bill Daly, when he spoke to The Canadian Press.
One option which was reported earlier on was the idea of simply resuming the season as is and playing out the team’s 10 remaining games or so, and just starting the playoffs later on into May. This was met with criticism, however, due to the fact the playoffs would probably end sometime in July, thus sparing only 1-2 months max for free agency, the NHL entry draft, training camp, and many other events that would seemingly be crammed together.
So another idea quickly came to light, which was simply to end the regular season as is, and based on the current standings, begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This obviously can appear unfair to teams with games in hand and/or teams 1 or 2 or even a few points out of a playoff spot, which could have been made up in the remaining regular season.
NHL Players Weigh In
NHL superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby however support this idea; “I wouldn’t mind starting right at the playoffs,” Crosby told Sam Kansan of Pens Inside Scoop. Crosby also sees both sides noting “But there are a lot of guys in different situations”, tracing back to the fact some teams currently only sit 1-2 points out of the playoffs. In another interview, Alex Ovechkin also said he would hope to go straight into the playoffs, he told the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell.
Even further, just as of March 27th, it has been reported that NHL stars Connor McDavid and Marc-Andre Fleury disagree with the idea of the NHL going straight into the playoffs. McDavid arguing players should have a period to get back into things rather than just starting the ever so physically demanding and intense Stanley Cup Playoff workload. Fleury on the other hand described the job as a goaltender; “The biggest thing as a goalie is timing. The speed of the game is something you have to catch up on, so it would be nice to play some games before starting the playoffs”, he reportedly told The Athletic’s Jesse Granger.
So as you can see, there are obviously a lot of conflicting ideas and feelings towards how the NHL should go about resuming the 2019-2020 season. I believe, however, there is one way things could go that would make everyone, or at least the majority satisfied.
Best Option Moving Forward
Taking into account the several testimonials of players cited previously in this piece, what I believe the NHL should do is:
Resume the regular season, let teams play out their remaining regular season schedule, that way determining playoff eligibility in the most fair way possible.
As for the Stanley Cup playoffs themselves, shorten the amount of games and the format for advancing just this once so that things can progress a little quicker, while still being fair, leaving more time for a regularly scheduled (or at least as regular as possible) offseason. There would still be a Stanley Cup champion, fans with tickets to remaining regular season games would get their money’s worth, and most importantly, the players would get a “warmup” period prior to the playoffs to get back into the swing of things after this multi-month hiatus.
After postponing games indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams from the NBA, NHL and major league baseball are effectively keeping the money of customers who bought tickets. https://t.co/pbujeOEFmS
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 25, 2020
The NHL could and quite frankly should follow a playoff format quite closely to what Major League Baseball has currently set up. Since the MLB has a playoff format with fewer teams to begin with, it unfortunately wouldn’t work for the NHL to have Wild card teams compete in a single win-or-lose “knockout” playoff game before joining the remaining 3 teams in their respective conferences. So instead, the NHL could simply make all first round matchups a best-of-5 series instead of the normal best-of-7. Or, we could have the first round matchups all be a best-of-3 series, then the second round, the East/West semifinals, could be best-of-5 series. This way, drastically shortening the length of the first half of the playoffs from a month or so, to about a couple weeks max. After concluding the first and second round matchups, continue on with the Conf. Finals and the Stanley Cup Final with best-of-7 series, as they’ve always been. Worst case scenario if the NHL gets really short on time, make the remaining series all a best-of-5 competition except for the Stanley Cup Final where it would remain best-of-7. Simple enough, right?
It may not seem like it on paper, but any plan with a similar structure to how the MLB handles their playoffs would result in a much quicker but still very fair Stanley Cup Playoffs, sparing more offseason rest for players and their families as well as time for necessary off-season events that don’t become completely cancelled.
Keep in mind that’s just my take on things. And this is all one giant assumption that this COVID-19 pandemic will give-way any time soon. Because with every day that things don’t get better, losing the rest of this season completely seems less and less far fetched.