It’s good to finally be writing about NHL games that are on the horizon, but something still feels empty.
It’s good to have plans for an NHL tournament, even if it is watered down and includes a Montreal team that had nine more losses than wins.
It’s good that the Flyers, who were the NHL’s hottest team the last time we saw them, will have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup since 1975, but it’s sad fans won’t be allowed to sit in the Wells Fargo Center and make it percolate like in the unforgettable 2010 playoff run.
Unlike me, most fans don’t have mixed emotions about hockey’s returning. They just want it back. Yesterday.
In a Twitter poll I started Wednesday morning, 81% of the first 1,000 responders said they were thrilled about the NHL’s return-to-play plans, which the league outlined Tuesday. Just 19% said the season should have been canceled.
Part of me feels excited about the NHL’s planned return, about the chance to see if the Flyers can continue their growth under coach Alain Vigneault and his terrific staff.
Part of me feels that the resumption of the season is forced, that the season should have been bagged and that too much can go wrong (read: the coronavirus spreads through a team or two) once the games return.
But here we are. Getting ready to watch games, place bets, and make the TV ratings soar.
“We hope this is a step back toward normalcy,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday.
A short time later, he estimated that 30,000 coronavirus tests will be performed on players and staff members.
So much for normalcy.
Plans are coming together. Games will return in late July or early August, without fans in attendance, and the made-for-TV playoffs could drag into October, causing the next season to possibly start in — wait for it — January.
Proponents of resuming the season say it will be a diversion from the 100,000 coronavirus deaths that have made the United States the world’s epicenter.
Opponents say resuming the season -- after having nearly five months off -- is just a money grab for the NHL because it will generate as much as $500 million in TV revenue.
The money is needed to prevent the league’s salary cap from dropping drastically next season.
Speaking of next season, Bettman said the league plans to play a full 82-game schedule and hopes to have fans back in the seats. He added that the season might not start until January.
Now that seems like a money grab. Play 70 games, tops, and end next season’s playoffs in June, not when the leaves are changing colors.
Back to this season. Assuming there is no hitch and the league returns, 24 teams will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. That’s about three times too many teams in this chaotic situation, but, hey, the NHL has bent over backward to accommodate those that had even the slightest chance to make the playoffs when the season was stopped March 12.
The play-in round will be great theater, and those competing in those games will have to win five rounds to win the Stanley Cup. The top four teams in each conference, including the Flyers, will have to win the usual four rounds to be declared champs.
The Flyers have a lot going for them. They had won nine of their last 10 games when the season was suspended. Will the stoppage cripple their momentum? Maybe, but all teams will have rust in the early stages of their returns. From here, the swagger and the confidence the Flyers had built is something they can fall back on, something that will make it easier for them to regain their mojo when the season resumes.
The Flyers have a perfect blend of veterans and young players. The youngsters, like rookies Joel Farabee, Phil Myers, and Nic Aube-Kubel, and sizzling second-year pro Carter Hart, may have been about to fade from playing their first full (or significant) NHL seasons, so the break might be a blessing for them.
They have hungry, on-the-rise young players like Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg, and Scott Laughton who will be trying to make a playoff impact.
The veterans, such as Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Matt Niskanen, James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun, et al, will keep everyone focused.
They know the Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. They know they can’t use the long layoff as an excuse because every team is in the same position.
The Flyers (41-21-7) also may have caught a break because they have a chance to win the Eastern Conference’s top seed -- and potentially get an easier road to the Stanley Cup Final -- in a three-game round-robin tourney with Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington. The round-robin setup seems unfair to the Bruins, who had a league-best 100 points -- 11 more than the Flyers in the regular season.
That said, seedings don’t matter much if you get hot at the right time. Remember 2010, when the seventh-seeded Flyers faced eighth-seeded Montreal in the conference finals?
Oh, and finishing with the No. 1 seed isn’t as important this season because no fans are expected to be in buildings anyway, eliminating the home-ice advantage. For the Flyers, who had an NHL-best 25-6-4 home record, that stings.
But at least the season, provided some medical problems and other concerns are resolved, will return and a Stanley Cup champion will be crowned.
And maybe, just maybe, the Flyers will have a magical run that will end with Hart impersonating Bernie Parent from a less-complicated era.