Sunday, March 15th – Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild
7:30 PM Eastern
This game this evening in the State of Hockey is the very essence of a play-in game for the 2020 post-season. Both the Predators and Wild have been circling around a Western Conference playoff position for most of the season, and while one of the two wildcard spots are foremost in their minds, the recent stumbles of the Dallas Stars suddenly open up the possibility of third place in the Central Division.
That game was part of what was supposed to happen this weekend in the National Hockey League. The Push to the Playoffs was in full swing, and there were exciting races for post-season spots happening in both Conferences. Battles for playoff positions, and battles for first place in some divisions. The very stuff that hockey fans live for!
Except real life interceded in ways it hasn’t since 1919, when the Stanley Cup Final was cancelled due to the Spanish Flu, which killed more people than the recently wrapped up Great War (World War One) did.
Part of why we care so much about professional sports (heck, sports at any level) is that it provides us with an outlet. An escape from the monotony of everyday life. It’s also an opportunity to bond with strangers, as we gather at the various modern-day cathedrals scattered throughout North America, and cheer on a shared passion.
All of that is on hold right now, as society learns to cope with COVID-19. Will things get back to normal? Sure, in time.
What will things look like if, and when, the NHL is able to return to action? They won’t be able to conclude a proper 82-game schedule, so how will playoff teams be decided, particularly amongst clubs fighting tooth-and-nail to secure a wild card spot?
Some have advocated a play-in mini-series for those teams, and that would probably be the route the NHL has to take if they’re fortunate enough to get things up-and-running in two months’ time. While that would be a welcome relief from the virus forced stalemate we currently find ourselves in, here’s hoping that system would be a one-year oddity.
As SiriusXM NHL Network Radio insider Brian Burke said on-air this past Friday, if you can’t make the NHL playoffs under the current system (16 of 31 teams get to play in the first round), then you don’t deserve to make the post-season cut.
Trouble is, often in life when such an unforeseen opportunity presents itself, people fall in love with the novel, and look to entrench it into everyday affairs once things return to normal.
With Seattle about to join the NHL, 16 of 32 teams will qualify for the post-season. Half the league. If you can’t get your team into that generous grouping, you need to fix your team. The NHL regular season is the play-in. Adding more teams to the playoffs undervalues the already lengthy regular season. There has to be a reason to play for six months, apart from selling luxury boxes, and boxes of popcorn.
At this point, mere days into the mandated shutdown of all sports across this continent, any playoff system would be welcome. And let’s agree on something right now; if we’re fortunate to be able to hold the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring/summer, whichever team wins the Cup does not have to have an asterisk next to its name. All teams will have to face similar obstacles. The winner of the Stanley Cup at the end of July 2020 will be the rightful Stanley Cup Champion.
Hopefully, that’s exactly what comes to pass.