The NHL’s 24-team tournament, established after the pandemic played havoc with the regular season, has run rather smoothly at its two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton.
The players and coaches praised the league for the setup, but based on interviews with a handful involved, they don’t want the 24-team field to be a permanent thing.
They prefer the usual 16-team field, which doesn’t have an eight-team play-in round.
Some teams in this year’s playoffs will have to win five rounds (instead of the usual four) to capture the Stanley Cup.
“Having been there a couple times, to win four rounds is a big challenge,” coach Alain Vigneault said before the Flyers captured the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed by whipping Tampa Bay, 4-1, on Saturday in Toronto. “To add this to an already 82-game schedule, it would be real challenging to players, their body, their physical health.”
The four-round format is “challenging enough,” he added. “It’s the most demanding trophy there is, in my estimation. I don’t want to take anything away from the other sports. In my estimation, it’s the hardest trophy to get.”
“Personally, I like it the way it is.”
Matt Niskanen concurred.
“My personal opinion, no,” the 33-year-old defenseman said, echoing many of his teammates, when asked if the 24-team field should be used in the future. “It’s fine for the extreme circumstances. In my opinion, they did the best out of a crappy situation. If everything else was normal, I like the normal years.”
Rookies Nic Aube-Kubel (two goals) and Joel Farabee (goal, assist) helped steer the Flyers to Saturday‘s win over Tampa.
According to the NHL, Aube-Kubel became the 10th different rookie to ever score at least two goals for the Flyers in a playoff game. The others: Matt Read (2012), Sean Couturier (2012), Andy Delmore (twice in 2000), Dainius Zubrus (1997), Todd Bergen (1985), Tom Gorence (1979), Mel Bridgman (twice in 1976), Orest Kindrachuk (1974), and Rosaire Paiement (1968).
Carter Hart praised the round-robin setup in Toronto, which is also where the first two Eastern Conference playoff rounds will be held.
“I think it’s very similar to a World Championship, where you’ve got three games a day,” he said earlier in the week. “You’re watching a lot of hockey. You’ve got all the teams at the hotel. It kind of reminds me of those kind of vibes and minor hockey tournaments back in the day, which were always a blast.”
The league, he said, has done a “really good job of setting things up for us. We’re at a really nice hotel. We’ve got a lot of things to do in our spare time. A lot of hockey to watch. I think we lucked out here in Toronto.”
Rookie forward Connor Bunnaman started the season with the Flyers in the Czech Republic, spent most of the year with the Phantoms, and is now back with the NHL team and on its valuable and hard-to-play-against fourth line with Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick.
And feeling comfortable with his role.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said Friday. “All the guys since Day 1 when we went to Prague have been great to me. Taught me a lot. Just thankful for that. Fun time. Hopefully, we go far in the playoffs here.”