The NHL has little idea of when games can resume, but a late July-early August return could lead to more playoff excitement.
The NHL is months away from returning to the ice. If and when the opportunity arrives, the league may not have enough time to award the Stanley Cup and still be able to play a full 82-game season in 2020-21
Commissioner Gary Bettman and his staff haven’t made any announcements with regards to how the league and NHLPA may start things up when the time allows. The league did request arena availability for all 31 teams two weeks ago. But other than that, nothing else has been announced when it comes to how the season will restart.
With that said, let’s discuss some ideas.
Fast and furious playoffs
I have a thought that I introduced on the Rink Podcast with my partner in crime Steve Azul of the Bleed Blue show this past Tuesday night.
We’ll assume that the NHL can hit the ice in the first week of August. I believe the league will not resume the regular season, which is unfortunate for the New York Rangers and Rangerstown, and hold a mini-camp starting mid-July.
In order to award a Stanley Cup, the league will have to change the playoffs for this season. Everything else has changed over the past few months, so an alteration in the playoff format shouldn’t be a big deal. As fans, we should be happy we’re witnessing the postseason in the first place.
Assuming the playoff seeding remains the same — the top three teams from each division plus the two wild-card spots in each conference — the league should change the first two rounds from a best-of-seven series to a best-of-five.
The layout would be the lower (worse) seed receiving the first two games at their home rink with the higher (better) seed hosting the following three games (Games 4 and 5 if necessary). With only one day off for travel, one round could finish in six days if it lasts five games. That means the league could have the first two rounds completed in just 13 days maximum.
The conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals would both be a best-of-seven series. The format for the final two rounds would hold a 2-3-2 format to limit travel and time.
Now here’s the hard part: all games would be played the old school way of playoff hockey. The teams would play games on consecutive nights and only experience off days when traveling. Thus, the NHL and NHLPA would have to agree on playing three games in three nights, which could happen once in each series.
If the last two rounds go the full seven games each, including travel days and one day off in between the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals, it would be completed in 19 days.
Let’s play some ironman playoff hockey. Back to the days before ads were on the boards and ice. Back to when television contracts and availability were of no concern.
The true Stanley Cup Champion will do so by the way of dynasties like the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers.
For the fans
If and when the league returns, the money will be tight for the heat fans of the NHL. The league may have to consider cutting prices to help make ends meet for the teams’ supporters.
The competition for the common fan will also be steep. The NBA, MLB, and preseason NFL games may also be taking place in the month of August.
Taking care of the fans, along with a similar playoff format as is laid out above, should enable the league to award a Stanley Cup Champion without sacrificing next season.
But before the league can contemplate any of this, everyone needs to be smart, stay at home, and continue to stay socially distant. Sports cannot return to normal unless the world resolves this massive issue in a timely manner.
Once that’s done, imagine how much fun the playoffs will be with some old-time hockey leading the way once again.