By Patrick Kelly
Over the last few years, the NHL and NHLPA have been butting heads back and forth over the Olympics. Something that a lot of players feel extremely strong are those that come from countries where that is the whole reason you lace up your skates. Because of these problems, it is almost surprising that the NHL was the first major league to push forward with a plan to finish their season.
With only about 10 games left for each team, there were a lot of exciting teams on the outside looking in that were making a strong push. Not to mention all of the big games that remained for teams like the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche game on the last day of the season that very well could have decided who won the Central Division.
When the league first started throwing around the idea of a 24-team playoff, the original concepts that were rumored had a lot of flaws that people were picking apart. First being the idea that teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins could possibly play in the first round against each other even though at the time of the stoppage they wouldn’t play until the next round. Another problem was that the top four teams in each division would have to wait around and then start a seven-game series cold, which would be a major disadvantage.
Whether the NHL heard these problems or already had them worked out behind closed doors is unclear, but they smoothed them over and have put together a great playoff system. One of the first things that is exciting is that even if a bye team wins the round robin or is last, they are still looking at the possibility of a very tough matchup in the first round. In the west, if you are first in the round robin you are rewarded by either playing the Winnipeg Jets or the team that was atop the west last year: the Calgary Flames. If you are last, you draw either the Nashville Predators who are always dangerous or the Arizona Coyotes who will be fully healthy after being plagued by injuries the past two years.
Going over to the east, the top team will play either the Toronto Maple Leafs who are more than due for a deep playoff run or the Columbus Blue Jackets who know all too well how to play spoiler to a powerhouse. Meanwhile, if you are last in the round robin in the east you either draw The Hurricanes who had a miraculous run to the Eastern Conference Final last year or the New York Rangers who have just seemed to hit their stride with top level talent all around.
The NHL playoffs simply come down to the more the merrier. Of TSN’s top 20 players that they released earlier this year, seven of them play on bubble teams that are participating in the five-game series. The NHL hasn’t had any five-game series since the 1986-87 season so there are two whole generations of fans who have never seen the extra sense of urgency in those series. The only unknown will be the round robin, and while it is the best teams in each conference the top spot in each division doesn’t guarantee the easier opponent.
No system any league puts together is going to be perfect, but the revenue for these teams and leagues is greatly needed and adding extra games only increases the revenue to each team which hopefully in turn can do the right thing by making sure that anyone furloughed doesn’t become permanently cut. The NHL has done a better job than any league to put forward the measures to play while also making safety the utmost priority, and by getting exclusivity in sports they should be greatly rewarded for coming together in such a tough time and giving everyone a bit of normalcy.