After weeks of speculation, we finally got an official proposal from the NHL for an expanded playoff:
As per @FriedgeHNIC and @reporterchris, the NHL and NHLPA are working on various Stanley Cup Playoff scenarios. Here's what a 24-team, conference-based setup with a play-in round could potentially look like.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 21, 2020
Details: https://t.co/GgNJC9h5Ax pic.twitter.com/1XFFgKpush
Each conference would be set up in a “hub” city. The top four seeds would play a round robin series to determine seeding. The remaining eight teams would be paired up for a best-of-five series.
On Friday night, the players association authorized further negotiations regarding this proposal:
The NHLPA Executive Board has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format, subject to reaching an overall agreement with the League on resuming the 2019-20 season: https://t.co/SIzQYyooEE pic.twitter.com/9TftmApiGJ— NHLPA (@NHLPA) May 23, 2020
There is still much more to be done, but this is an important first step in the league’s process to resume the 2019-20 season. Obviously the biggest questions remain, namely: how do we bring these players and staff together while ensuring that they don’t become a coronavirus hot spot?
If/when this playoff happens, I think it is a good thing for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
First, it’s important to me that they will be able to compete. If they jumped right to the standard 16 team playoff, the Jackets would be excluded by a razor thin margin due to points percentage. That would leave a bad taste in my mouth after all that they went through this season.
Second, while the Jackets were staying in contention despite several critical injuries, whenever the season resumes they will have reinforcements. Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and Oliver BJORKSTRAND will be recovered and available to play. There’s a chance that any of Josh Anderson, Dean Kukan, or Alexandre Texier could be healed up as well. Since the OHL cut their season short, prospect Liam Foudy would be eligible to join the team.
Now, I would have preferred a divisional format where all teams involved played a round robin to determine seeding for the play-in round. That would have given the Jackets a chance to improve their position. That being said, facing Toronto is not a disaster. The Maple Leaves would deserve to be favored due to their elite forwards, but that is a series the Jackets can win. Hot goalies are always critical to a successful playoff run, but if either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins plays well in net, that can help even more in a short series. The Jackets’ defense would have to shut down the top forward lines like they did to Tampa’s top lines last spring.
Toronto will have more pressure on them to advance, after their first round defeats in the previous three seasons. Columbus, on the other hand, has no pressure. They’re playing with house money after losing high profile free agents last summer and withstanding injuries this season. The only downside with the short series is that any lineup mistake will be magnified. What if the wrong goalie starts? What if a skater (not naming names, but it may rhyme with “Mott Marrington”) plays over an alternate with more upside?
Finally, there’s still a chance that Columbus will be selected as one of the hub cities to host these games. Fans here would not be able to attend, but the presence of those teams downtown for a couple months would be a huge boon to the city’s economy, especially the hotels and restaurants that took such a hit during the shutdown.
I see complaints about the size of this format. Some feel that teams like Montreal and Chicago should not be included. In this special case, I’d much rather have unworthy teams included than contending teams (like Columbus) being left out. If those teams help to boost ratings and make up a bit of the league’s lost revenue, that is good for returning to normalcy going forward (especially with regards to the salary cap). Also, more teams means more hockey. After 2.5 months and counting with no live hockey action, are we so picky?
Now, perhaps 20 teams would be better than 24. BurkusCircus wrote a fanpost explaining how that could work.
The week that was
Congrats to certified good guy Boone Jenner:
SB Nation’s theme last week was Underdogs, so MrSwift profiled a notable underdog story on the Columbus roster, Cam Atkinson. I made the case for why the entire franchise is an underdog relative to the rest of the NHL. Rachel took the literal approach to the theme and wrote about the very good dogs of the Columbus players.
Elaine wrote about some noteworthy stats for the Cleveland Monsters. She also interviewed the Monsters Business Operations Advisor, Pam Frasco, about her charity that provides support for families of NICU patients.
We loved watching The Last Dance on ESPN so we had to talk about it on The Cannon Cast.
Around the League
Akim Aliu wrote an article for The Players’ Tribune about the ridicule, harassment, and physical abuse that he received as a young hockey player. It’s a disturbing read. He does highlight the good things that hockey has to offer, but it’s a sobering reminder about how much still needs to change about hockey culture. Steve Downie - a junior hockey teammate - shoved a stick into Aliu’s mouth at practice, knocking out seven teeth. Downie went on to play 434 games in the NHL; Aliu played seven. How is that fair?
There were reactions to this piece around the SBN network. At Arctic Ice Hockey, they point out the deafening silence around the hockey world in response to the article. Why won’t more high profile players speak out against this sort of behavior?
At Raw Charge, a writer was inspired to write about her own experience as a non-white person in hockey. How do you reconcile the conflict between embracing your heritage, as opposed to setting aside your identity in order to just fit in with a new group?
All three articles are worth your time.
Play me out
I love history and I love prestige television, yet somehow I went 19 years without watching the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. I figured Memorial Day weekend was as good a time as any to rectify this. It is as excellent as everyone says it is, with a great cast of “that guys” plus early appearances in small roles for future X-Men Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy.