Happy Tuesday, folks. Hope you had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend during these unprecedented times.
This is an important week because the NHL and the players’ union could come to an agreement on a few issues and announce plans to restart the season, which was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The league will soon release the date when teams can go to their training facilities for small-group workouts. They also could announce when three-week training camps will be held and when the season can restart.
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It doesn’t appear the league will restart until at least mid-July. And the teams not in the top four in each conference will have a much more difficult road to the Stanley Cup championship. Those teams will have to win five rounds instead of four to win the title.
It also means the champion probably won’t be crowned until late September. Or later. (That would cause the 2020-21 season to push back its start to, say, December.)
The Flyers are currently seeded No. 4 in the East, so they would only have to win the usual four rounds to capture their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
Teams voted overwhelmingly – a 29-2 landslide -- to go with a 24-team tourney. After play-in games, there will be a 16-team field competing for the Cup.
The Flyers were among the 29 teams in favor of the plan. Carolina and Tampa Bay voted against it.
In a conference call with reporters, Carolina’s player representative, Jordan Martinook, said his team wants to return and finish the season, but the Hurricanes don’t like having to go through a play-in round to get into the playoffs.
“It hurts our odds,” he said.
Carolina is seeded sixth and will face 11th-seeded Rangers, who would not have qualified for the tourney if the regular season were declared finished.
Alex Killorn, the Lightning’s player representative, said his team was against the format because it “didn’t think it was fair that certain teams that probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs“ would now have a chance in a best-of-five play-in series. “My team also felt it was unfair that the teams with a bye would not be as well prepared for a playoff series as the teams that had already played basically a playoff series to get into the playoffs.”
The top four teams in the East are Boston, Tampa, Washington and the Flyers, and they actually won’t get a bye. They will play each other a round-robin tourney for seeding purposes, but those games probably won’t have the intensity of the win-or-go-home series that the non-top-four teams will play.
You can analyze the 24-team format as much as you want, and there will always be those who think it’s inequitable. But a 29-2 vote is overwhelming. It’s time to move on. Time for teams to start small-group skating sessions, perhaps as soon as this week.
That’s Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan. Phase 3 is a three-week training camp, followed by Phase 4, which is the restart of the season.
Assuming the season resumes and the Flyers remain as the Eastern Conference’ s No. 4 seed, they would play the Pittsburgh-Montreal winner in the first round of the playoffs.
If, however, the Flyers advance to the No. 3 seed, they would meet the Rangers-Carolina winner in the opening round.
The longer the NHL waits to restart things, the chances will increase that that the Stanley Cup Final will be competing for viewers with Major League Baseball’s pennant races and NFL games – not to mention the NBA.
Right now, America is starved for sports. In a couple months, however, we may go from having no live sports to having the NHL, NBA, MLB and the NFL games all being televised at the same time.
It’s not automatic that the league and players’ union will get their act together on issues that still must be resolved before the season returns.
Health and safety concerns, deciding on whether teams will be reseeded after play-in games are held, and determining the length of the first playoff series after play-in games are among the items needing a resolution before there’s an agreement on returning to play.
Another concern for players: Being quarantined from their families for a long time.
“That’s a big thing,” said left winger James van Riemsdyk, who, as the Flyers’ player representative, is a member of the NHLPA’s executive committee. “No one wants to be away from their family for months on end. I know everyone is aware of that who’s on this committee.”
Added van Riemsdyk: "I know that no one is asking us to be without seeing our family for too long of a stretch.”
Van Riemsdyk’s wife, Lauren, delivered their first child, Scarlett Everly, May 2 in Minnesota.
Tuesday: Twenty-five years ago, the Flyers finished a second-round sweep of the defending Stanley Cup champion Rangers . Defenseman Karl Dykhuis scored a pair of goals to trigger a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden.
Wednesday: Forty-five years from this date, the Flyers showed their first Stanley Cup wasn’t a fluke. They won their second straight Cup by beating host Buffalo, 2-0, in Game 6 as Bob Kelly and Bill Clement scored third-period goals and Bernie Parent was flawless in the nets.
Tyler Pitlick, Justin Braun and Brian Elliott’s contracts were about to expire July 1 (AHL goalie Alex Lyon as well). Will their expiration dates be automatically moved back or will they be offered an extension to their contracts with the same pay?
From @GaryStachowicz via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for your very good question, Gary. This is one of the many questions the NHL cannot answer at this point. Logic says the expiration date will be pushed back until after the season ends, but it is one of the items that will have to be negotiated by the NHL and the players’ union. My guess is that the free-agent period will start two weeks after the Stanley Cup playoffs end. If the playoffs aren’t held, then the July 1 date figures to stay intact.