SCREAMIN’ FROM THE CHEAP SEATS – APRIL 7
By Leo Haggerty
WHAT THE PLAYOFF PLAN
I must admit that when the National Hockey League decided to begin it’s 2020-21 regular season, it’s plan was genius. Why, you ask? Let me explain.
There was already an 800 pound gorilla in the room when it came to the regular season. The was no way that an 82 game regular season schedule that would encompass each of the 31 organizations playing each other at some point could be created starting in October of 2020.
To make matters worse, the Canadian government had initiated travel restrictions that would require a mandatory 14 day quarantine for anyone entering the country. There would be no playing north of the border by organizations based in the United States.
As you can plainly see, this created a daunting task for the schedule makers. To the credit of the NHL, they devised a plan to begin play and, so far, it has worked with a minimal amount of deviations.
So, what did the NHL come up with? Let’s look at what the league did to allow play this season, shall we?
First, a 56 game schedule was instituted. Yes a truncated regular season but, as I was told years ago by my father when he imparted these words of wisdom to me in my adolescence, “75% of something is worth much more than 100% of nothing.” Sage words from the old submariner and the NHL took that statement to heart.
Second, the league chose to to begin the middle of January in 2021. With the later start to the regular season, teams would possibly have the ability to open their venues to fans even if it was on a limited basis so a revenue stream could be created. To put it bluntly, that money was essential to franchises surviving.
Third, a “mini playoff” format would be instituted. Teams would play an opponent in back to back or, in some cases, three game series. That would cut travel time exponentially thus limited possible exposure to Covid as well as lowering cost.
Finally, and this was the missing piece to puzzle for the NHL to even start playing, the league was realigned. The American teams would be divided into three eight team divisions. The remaining Canadian teams would form a separate seven team group. Teams would only compete against other teams within their division.
Kudos to the NHL for coming up with a plan for getting teams back on the ice for the regular season. Now, let’s look at the playoffs and that where it starts to become a bit testy.
The first rounds of the playoffs will be played only within each division. First place plays fourth place and second seed matches up with the third seed in the normal best of seven series. Those winners meet and that will leave one team from each division to move on. That works, right?
The problems occurs when there are only four teams still playing for the Stanley Cup. How do you encompass a Canadian team into the mix if there is still restrictions for travelling north of the border? In my humble opinion, the only way that works is if the Canadian team is forced to play an entire seven game series on the road. That’s a huge disadvantage to the Canadian organization as well as a tremendous advantage to the American team they are playing. Now an even playing field to say the least.
It’s time for the NHL to release how that will transpire. Maybe the reason Commissioner Gary Bettman hasn’t been transparent as to what will occur is because, right now, the league doesn’t know how it will proceed.
My advice to the NHL would be to start devising how the road to the Stanley Cup will look for those last four teams standing as soon as possible. I fully admit that there is no good solution. With that being said, it’s time to come up with, as I have stated in the past, the best bad plan and put it out there now.
This will alleviate any misconceptions so every team knows what the playoff picture will look like now. It the right thing to do.