Everyone is focused on the upcoming playoff format to finish out 2019-20, but this will all have lasting affects on future seasons.
You can’t help but be excited about the return of hockey in just another month with players coming back to team training facilities, but the thought of future seasons still remains a big question.
Without question next season is going to be delayed in starting. After the Stanley Cup champ is finally crowned hopefully sometime in September, players are going to need around two months for an offseason.
To go along with the needs of the players, the NHL still needs to conduct offseason business like free agency and the draft.
All signs are pointing to a December start time for next season, and that rubs a lot of fans and hockey purists the wrong way. The thought of having the NHL regular season and playoffs leak into the summer months isn’t widely popular.
The other thought of expediting the 2020-21 regular season by increasing the number of back-to-backs and skipping the All Star break is also being floated around.
The issue is pretty simple in that most fans don’t want to see next season negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but here we are salvaging the current season with a 24-team playoff format.
I do have to say that the NHL has really done their due diligence in rolling out a creative and safe plan to finish this out with a Stanley Cup winner. The playoff format will make for some entertaining hockey, and I really like the idea of reseeding each round.
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Even more so, I’m a fan of giving some of the fringe teams a chance to earn their way in since they weren’t given that opportunity by ending the regular season prematurely.
Teams like the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild were trending upward and on the cusp of a wildcard spot with double digit games left to play. It would’ve been hard to move forward with a 16-team playoff and deem it fair by leaving those teams out.
Then you have teams that were barely hanging on and may have slipped out if the regular season was completed. Those teams, like the Nashville Predators, are also getting their chance by playing in the qualifying round.
We are a Nashville Predators site, and I have to be honest here. I’m skeptical that the Predators would’ve claimed a wildcard spot if the season were finished. They had a brutal stretch to finish things out, and were barely clinging on by a thread.
Juuse Saros going into beast mode over the last month was the main reason why the Predators grabbed that final wildcard spot with 13 games remaining.
Predators GM David Poile is certainly approaching this with optimism, stating that this could be just what his inconsistent, but talented team needed:
"“Maybe teams will not look at us as highly as maybe they did a couple of years ago, and maybe a combination of that and how some individuals improve their play, maybe it could be our year”Per the Predators official website"
In the bigger picture, the NHL has come up with the best possible format to finish this out and not make it gimmicky. No asterisk will be required for whoever wins the Stanley Cup this season that’s been anything but normal.
Will this be the new norm?
My biggest question is how will the NHL handle next season? It makes sense to push the reset button after the Stanley Cup winner is announced, and come in to open next season with the Winter Classic.
Hopefully by doing that, fans will be allowed back into hockey arenas. Maybe not at full capacity, but to some degree. The Winter Classic is always a great stage and generates a lot of buzz.
Imagine seeing two entertaining and talented teams face off to open next season.
This isn’t something I’m pulling out of thin air. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is already giving this some serious thought most likely, and Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News elaborated on that notion of the NHL officially shifting their league calendar for the future.
However, by waiting until New Year’s Day, will that be enough time to play a full 82-game regular season slate and maybe return to the traditional hockey calendar after that?
There’s little optimism from myself at the moment that the NHL is going to be able to muster up an 82-game season. This has dragged out too far to fit 82 games in next season and not get stuck in the same cycle of pushing deep into the summer with the playoffs.
Future seasons being negatively impacted is what fears most fans and has them wanting to just scrap the season altogether.
Shifting the league calendar or shortening next season might be the only way to return back to the traditional starting time in October.
The NHL has put themselves up against a new challenge that will stretch far past 2020. You can applaud them for putting together such a complex plan, but can’t help but wonder how this is going to impact several seasons to come.
There’s really no perfect solution to this problem, and there’s really nothing to go off of when trying to restart your season three months later. Approaching this with an open mind is really all we can do.