Tiptoeing to a resumption of NHL play

Marc Elliott

Minnesota Wilds’ Eric Staal is concerned about quarantine procedures if the NHL is called back into action. Photo courtesy NHL.

KNIFE RIVER …. The NHL, working in concert with the NHLPA and the Return to Play committee arrived at a basic framework for a continuance of competition with a vote on this Friday past that saw agreement on ending the regular season right where it was at on March 12, the day play was suspended, and go into a 24 team Stanley Cup tournament.

Apparently the obstacles to completing the postponed regular season were too much and it was preferred to ease right into an expanded Stanley Cup format. With an inclusion of 24 teams, 12 from the East and Western Conferences, the top four from each Conference would get byes.

There would be an eight-team round robin format in each conference, with the winners emerging to take on the clubs that received the byes.

At this point not much more is known other than both parties are in agreement with the basic concept. It should be cautioned that there are many more details to be worked out before final agreement can be reached, and it is not a foregone conclusion that everyone will agree on everything.

Regardless of what may be finally arrived at, don’t be surprised to hear some dissenting voices when an agreement is wrapped up. While the basics of a tournament have been framed, there is a lot yet to be determined.

Will the tourney be held in a minute number of “hub” cities as has been discussed throughout?

What will the health and safety protocols be relative to actually getting on to the ice and having at it?

How will players’ families, (kids, wives, girlfriends, etc) be accommodated, if they are factored in at all?

Some players, one of them being the Minnesota Wilds’ Eric Staal have held concerns about the possibility of the players getting to the hub city game sites, wherever they might be, and then having to be in quarantine when not playing or practicing, thus raising the question of family involvement or not. Staal was quoted as saying that “it’s hard right now to envision playing away from family.”

I get that. The possibility exists that this won’t be your usual 3 to 4 game roadie around the Central Division and then after that last tilt you hop on the charter flight, have some great chow, a couple of cold ones, maybe a nap and then, poof, you are back on home turf and in your own bunk.

The two teams that make it into the SC Final could be away from “home” upwards of a three-month timeframe. If you have ever traveled for your work you will know what I’m talking about in regard to being gone from home for that long. Plus if you ever have had that as a part of your work, you’ll know that traveling for your work can be exhausting in and of itself. Flying, driving, hotels, restaurants, you might not think so, but it’s fatiguing after a while.

There are a myriad of other smaller details to attend to, but let’s say they all get worked out, sites are determined, accommodations found, tourney formatting, rules applicable for neutral site games and the like, what will this event look like?
There is already a basic format in place as to how it would go and even beyond that, who the participants will be.

And wonder of wonders, the WILD would get a spot in the tourney. When play was suspended back in March they were on the outside looking in, albeit with an unequal number of games played among the Western clubs. They were a point out of the second Wild Card spot. My own calculations had them missing out by a single point if the regular season had played out to it’s normal conclusion.

In defense of the team, they were playing some solid hockey at the time play was halted and within their overall “game” there are some parts of that that match up well with other teams. But that’s another discussion.

Here are the basics of how the tourney could look; In the East the top four seeds would be BOS/1, TAM/2, WAS/3 and PHI/4. The play-in round would look like this; PIT/5 vs. MON/12, CAR/6 vs. NYR/11, NYI/7 vs. FLA/10 and TOR/8 vs. CBJ/9.
Over in the West the top four seeds would be; STL/1, COL/2, VGK/3 and DAL/4. The play-in round would feature; EDM/5 vs. CHI/12, NSH/6 vs. ARI/11, VAN/7 vs. MIN/10 and CAL/8 vs. WIN/9.

What of a Wild-Canuck matchup? Historically they have met only once in the playoffs back in 2003 when the Wild made it to the WCF. The Wild ousted the Canucks in 7 games in the 2nd round.

Even though at a neutral site, VAN would get home ice advantage for line changes, faceoffs, and etc. In the here and now the two clubs met three times in the 19-20 season with the Wild going 2-1 with the GF and GA equal at 9.

Off the cuff and in my opinion based on my season’s observations of the teams, I’d give VAN a slight edge in goal with Jacob Markstrom. Alex Stalock actually has better numbers then Markstrom, my overall feeling is that in tough games or sequences Markstrom looked better then either Stalock or Dubnyk.

In Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, JT Miller, Horvat, Hughes etc., the Canucks can put a lot of skill on the ice. I’m not certain the Wild can match that even up, but on the other hand, I don’t think the Canucks hold the overall experience level that the Wild do.

In the Wild’s favor is that they are one of the better clubs at limiting opponents’ shots from high percentage shooting areas. I feel the Wild defensive group is likely better overall then the Canucks at this point.

Then on the other hand, no one has played any games for going on two months now. Certainly that gives injured players a chance to rest and recover, but if you were a team that had to “build” your game up to a certain level, how does going cold into a tournament work out for you?

As far as other data goes these two clubs are relatively close in the major stat groups.
So, who prevails here?

On the surface for me it’s a “pick’em” series. It seriously is. The only edge I could give either is that the Canucks young stars could get their games back quicker then the Wild’s older ones could. By the time the Wild caught up the series could be over.

However, it takes experience to win a playoff series, and that’s something Vancouver’s young stars don’t have yet, series to the Wild.

Whatever occurs in the near future, I’ll stand with the NHL in its quest to answer all questions before returning to play, that’s the right thing to do… PEACE