Like every other hockey fan in North America, I sit here wondering when, or if, the NHL will return this season. If it does, there would most likely be a 40- or 50-game season at best. I’ve been flip-flopping on the idea that if hockey does return, will I enjoy the shortened schedule or not?
A part of me thinks, “Awesome, hockey is back and every game could make or break your playoff hopes, literally.” On the other hand, does the format produce a true champion?
I asked this same question to Bruins television analyst Andy Brickley during a recent visit to our NESN studios, and like always, Brick made a good point. When asked whether or not the Stanley Cup champions’ name should have an asterisk next to it this season, Brick said as long as there’s a full length playoff, it counts in his book.
That being said, the postseason in the NHL is unlike any other sport. The intensity, toughness, heart and skill levels get ratcheted up to a whole new level. It’s the only sport I can watch the playoffs from start to finish and not turn off the TV even if my hometown team isn’t playing in it.
To Brick’s point, the playoff format wouldn’t change: seven-game series from start to finish with the top eight teams from each conference getting a shot at the Cup. I agree with the point about a full-length playoff, but it’s getting there that I’m having a tough time grasping.
Consistency is the biggest challenge of an 82-game schedule. From October all the way through April, teams battle to stay healthy as well as consistent with their play on the ice — no, not consistently bad. It makes you think: if a team gets out of the gate hot, they’re more than likely golden when it comes to making the playoffs. Take last November, for example. The Bruins posted a 12-0-1 record in that month, with their only loss coming in a shootout against Detroit. If a team were to catch fire like that with a shortened schedule, they wouldn’t have much work left to do to make the playoffs.
On the flip side, the B’s got off to a horrid start the month prior, as many liked to refer to it as a “championship hangover.” Stumbling out of the gate could prove disastrous with a small sample size of games. The point I’m trying to make is that a full 82-game slate allows for the ebb and flow of any NHL team — the high points, the low points, injuries, winning streaks, losing streaks, etc.
While I’m rooting with the rest of the hockey faithful for a return to the ice this year, I still have a hard time envisioning the eventual champ raising the Cup without an asterisk somewhere close by. Yes, you endured the rigors of a normal NHL playoff, but it’s how you got there that isn’t sitting well. Let’s just hope we get a chance to debate this topic again when it’s playoff time, because that would mean Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman put aside their differences and listened to the true voice of the league — the fans.