There are rumblings that the NHL is going to go with a 24-team playoff format and the New York Rangers should have their fingers crossed.
The NHL-NHLPA Return to Play committee met over the weekend, and though nothing was finalized, LeBrun is reporting that it seems likely that the league will use a 24-team tournament to award a Stanley Cup championship. The league would use the top 12 teams in each conference to establish a group of 24.
When the NHL paused its season, the Blueshirts were 10th in the conference, sporting a 37-28-5 record with 70 games played. Their 79 points are just one shy of the ninth-place rival New York Islanders.
The NHL is expected to further discuss when the league can enter phase 2 of their resumption of play. This is when players would be called back to their home cities and begin entering their practice facilities.
This is a two-prong issue for general manager Jeff Gorton and his club. They would first have to issue the call to New York which could be time-consuming for three particular Blueshirts namely Henrik Lundqvist, Mika Zibanejad, and Kaapo Kakko.
The three players are all currently at the homes in Sweden and Finland, respectively. Based on the current state and government laws, these players would have to stay in quarantine for 14 days once they enter the United States.
Another concern for the Rangers is where to hold a training camp before a restart. New York has been the epicenter of the global pandemic. Stay-at-home laws initiated two months ago, along with the state’s plan to reopen, currently prohibit large gatherings and sports as a whole in the city and parts of the state.
The team could head to Hartford, CT to use the XL Center as its training and practice facility. The AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers affiliate, play at that facility, but with the announcement of the AHL canceling the season, the building would be a viable option for the club to use.
Far from being out of the woods
The NHL has other issues to consider before finalizing a plan to restart the season. The most important issue is the health of the players during this time.
Some players are understandably wary of restarting the season amid the global pandemic. Washington Capitals defenseman Radko Gudas made the league know of his concerns recently at a golf charity event in the Czech Republic via CTK.
He is not willing to sacrifice his health and time away from his family with so many unanswered questions surrounding COVID-19. Certainly, he is not the only player with these concerns.
Possible realignment of divisions
The Rangers along with the other 31 teams must also address realignment one the league determines how it will restart the regular season.
Over the weekend, LeBrun reported that the league was considering four “hub cities” for the 24-team playoffs. Each city would host six teams that would compete in a round-robin style format before a more traditional play-in tournament.
As the competition was whittled down to 16 teams, the NHL could go back to its normal routine with seven games in each series.
The Rangers could find themselves in the Atlantic Division hub along with Boston, Tampa, Toronto, Florida, and Montreal. This would create some intense battles as four of the original six clubs would be in that hub.
Things are beginning to open up in some states, but the logistics for the NHL to put all the pieces together to award a Stanley Cup might be too daunting of a task.
One thing is very clear, the NHL and the Rangers will try to do everything possible to resume the season and crown a champion. Rangerstown may still get the opportunity to see Artemi Panarin and Zibanejad carry the club to its first playoff appearance since its second-round loss in 2017.