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Bobby Hull shakes hands with Jean Beliveau after the 1965 Stanley Cup series, won by Montreal.
ISLAND LAKE ... In the recent Part One of my simulated Stanley Cup tournament I projected a final regular season standings and then using that data laid out the opening round of the Cup tourney based on the league playoff formatting and then projected Rounds one and two. In Round one in the East I had BOS vs NYI, TBL vs TOR, WAS vs CAR and PHI vs PIT. My first round Eastern winners were BOS, TBL, WAS and PHI. That set up Round two featuring BOS vs TBL and WAS vs PHI. In those series I had TBL and PHI making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the West my first round had COL vs WIN, STL vs DAL, VGK vs NSH and EDM vs VAN. Coming out of Round one were COL, STL, VGK and VAN. In Round two I had COL over STL and the VGK over VAN. This set up the WCF between COL and the VGK. Of the four teams remaining I have two of them (COL and TBL) as being in my top four, top tier teams in the league. My other two (BOS and STL) are out. Based on a variety of factors, this isn’t unusual. No matter the sport within the four majors, the best, or “top tier” teams don’t always win their leagues titles or even make their finals. And once in a while, as we witnessed last year, an NHL team will come out of nowhere to win it all.
However, even though the VGK and PHI are not in my top tier, they are in my very next “level” after that, meaning that they are very good and still possess the ability to win the Cup. Remember, the NHL is still in limbo due to the pandemic situation and multiple factors have to be in place to win a championship. The Bruins for instance are out in my simulation because with one of the oldest players and older rosters in the NHL, and having played 176 games since the start of the 18-19 season, how do they fare with this break? Some would say that it’s a gift for an older club like the Bs. I’m unconvinced of that and believe that the inactivity will hurt their game when real competition resumes. Certain teams will thrive due to some factors and others will have their game diminished by them. We haven’t seen a situation like this in my or your lifetime.
In the East Final with TBL against PHI, the two clubs had only played twice prior to the cessation of play in March. The Bolts won both games, and neither of them were played until mid January, and then mid February. New Flyer coach Alain Vignault had time by that point to get his system and style in place and the Flyers were playing well. The Bolts core group including Coach Jon Cooper fit like an old shoe and have been together for multiple seasons. When they are on “it” they are among the league’s best. Both teams are top ten in GF and GA. The special teams rank close as well, with the Flyers taking substantially less penalties. The Flyers have the young Hart kid in goal, and the Bolts have the veteran Vasilevskiy. This would be a close and epic series, and could go a full seven games. In this case, the layoff benefits the Bolts and they win in seven.
In the West, COL vs the VGK, this is another tough call. I feel like COL is the team with more “juice” at the time play was halted, but now every club has had rest. I saw these two play out in Denver last spring and the Avs were all over them until late, but hung on to win. The Avs are better in GF and GA, but Vegas is better on the PP, but almost last in the NHL on the PK. They aren’t far apart in PIMs. Vegas lost two to the Avs early in the season, and they weren’t close games. At the break though, both teams were playing at their peak. The Avs have more pop on offense clearly, but Vegas has Marc-Andre’ in goal. At the end of six games, it’s the Avs.
So, in the SC Final I have a “mile high” team against a “sea level” team. The Avs. The Bolts. The energy game of COL up against the power and experience of the TBL. The Avs would have home ice here. They beat Tampa soundly early in the season then lost to them in OT in their regular season tilts. Numerically, it’s close. The Bolts are 1st in GF, COL is 3rd. Tampa is 10th in GA, COL is 5th. TBL is 5th on the PP, COL is 19th. They are tied for 13th on the PK and the Bolts take more PIMs. Avs coach Jared Bednar has proven himself thus far as an NHL bench boss, but lacks the overall experience of Jon Cooper. Whether the Avs play Grubauer or Francouz in goal, they don’t have Vasy’s experience in really big games. Edge Bolts. Does the altitude factor here at all? I think only slightly. In the preseason Vegas odds Tampa was a 6-1 fave to win the Cup, the Avs were at 10-1.
All things considered I believe the Bolts will hoist the Cup they should have won last year, and they will do that in 6 games….
THE NHL HAS A Return to Play committee and it’s made up of league exec’s, NHLPA exec’s and rounded out with players. They are constantly monitoring the pandemic situation and gauging whether or not they could resume competition and how and when that could take place. There are several key issues to consider. Among them are availability of player/personnel virus testing, how to complete the regular season, where to hold games, and who and how many people would be allowed into game sites, a training “camp” of some sort, home team designations when playing at “neutral” sites, and more.
Off the top you would want to complete the regular season both for playoff purposes and also to determine draft positions for the next entry draft, whenever that might be. Name just one operational component of the hockey business and it has likely been impacted by the pandemic.
The sports business environment is enough of a challenge during most any season. Imagine what obstacles and issues a league would be up against now. I appreciate them now more than ever.
As much as I have loved sports my entire life, I knew they weren’t the most vital part of life itself. They really are entertainment. Then I consider how much enjoyment and fun it has been to follow sports over the years. Sure, if you are a Minnesotan, there has been at least some agony involved.
Then again, I wouldn’t trade away any of it. Can’t wait until they are back … PEACE