A Look Back at the Qualifiers

The NHL’s first attempt at a Qualifier Round in the Hub Bubble was a success, regardless of how your team finished. The idea of a 24-team playoffs as the “new normal” began to have a little traction, especially with Barry Trotz speaking up about it. The downside to this would be the length of the season, of course. Unless teams vote to knock off 10 games to the regular season in lieu of those playoff games, the 24-team concept will be a one-and-done situation. Of course, playoff tickets do outweigh regular season ones; so teams who consistently make the playoffs could be swayed by that extra revenue; whilst the constant also-rans will hate to have five home games taken from them.

It’s hard to argue that it’s a novel concept– a qualifier of some sort with the top-four teams battling out to reshuffle the top positions. Though, some of the top teams would cry foul if they did get that top spot to have a better advantage in the playoffs, only to lose that spot when it came to the actual playoffs starting– much like how the Bruins lost their top spot because of their subpar play in the round-robin.

Granted, it’s not to say that getting the top spot will assure victory. We saw with the Oilers and the Penguins that just because you’re facing the weakest-seeded team, it doesn’t really mean the top team will get out in front. In fact, four of the eight qualifiers saw the lower seed winning, with Chicago, Montreal, and Arizona being below the 10-seed and still advancing.

A bugaboo for me was the statistics of it all. I don’t understand how the round-robin games count as playoffs games when the OT structure was that of the regular season. It’s not as if they were in any kind of series structure to it, so why would they count as playoff games??

The bubble concept has been great for people, especially since you can’t have fans in the arena, the time teams play is very flexible and creates all-hockey, all-the-time on the networks. We’d have to assume, however, when people are allowed back into the arenas, this will be a thing of the past. You’d actually have to choose between a number of games rather than just sit down and have them come one right after another.

Unsung to these games is the ice crew, who have been amazing in the bubble with the ability to keep the ice as good as can be with three games playing at a time, while also making sure they had the correct local ads on the boards for the “home” team and their regional broadcast. Not only that, but the game operation folks have been tremendous with their humor to the in-game presentations.

This was a good trial run to see how the length of a qualifier, coupled with how to spread out the games. If the NHL does start to scratch their chins about the idea of a consistent 24-team playoffs, then they can pretty much push to this in order to determine the success and failure. Only issue would be doing it across multiple sites and not just one or two.

Overall, the qualifying round proved to be a nice re-introduction to most people for hockey and the playoffs, which will hopefully carry over into the actually playoffs when they start on Tuesday.

Bubble Hockey Schedule Hypes My Hockey Enjoyment

The Bubble Hockey Playoff is going to sour me from playoff hockey the rest of my life.

The NHL has hit it out of the park with the Hub Cities idea and honestly, the way they’ve formatted the schedule so that there’s very few overlapping games, allowing fans to not have to choose between games has been remarkable. To be able to start at noon ET and then it end beyond midnight is just a wet dream for hockey fans, but it also allows all the teams in the play-in to have center stage and put themselves on display. For many of these teams, it’s a big chance to show off what some people may be missing because they don’t get this kind of platform.

Unfortunately, this won’t be happening every playoff because the revenue that the games create is needed for the league to survive, blah-blah-blah– I don’t care. This is the perfect format for hockey to be seen, especially when it comes to getting interest in the game. With it constantly being on the NBC family of networks, it’s hard to avoid the games and the sports with that kind of reach. Let’s be honest, if not for other contracts, you’d have to think that NBCSN would be just 12-hours of hockey for their network.

To be quite honest, I don’t know if I miss the fans in attendance. Atmosphere does count for something and it’s a big talking point during the games. But at the same time, if it’s teams I have no stake in; I couldn’t care less about how the atmosphere is in the arena– it’s not like they can keep it up for all 60 minutes of game time. I’m sure I’ll be tired of hearing the “What could this ‘home’ team do if they had their fans to charge them up” narrative, but such as life.

At first I thought it’d be dreadful to deal with an empty arena– but the NHL and their broadcast partners in NBC and Rogers have done very well. Not only that, the arena workers (who should get more money for this) are doing a great job keeping the ice in as good of a condition as possible, while also quick-changing the advertising around the board depending upon the home team and what they’ve sold for the games. I honestly can’t say that I notice too much– whether that be because the game presentation is the same (if not better with other caveats they’ve put in) or the crowd noise pumped in and video messages being shown; but I like this more now than I would have in a normal playoff.

That said, I don’t know if I could deal with this year-in and year-out, but there’s something to be said about this atmosphere in the bubble and the amount of hockey you get in one day because of the staggered scheduling. I’m quite enjoying how it’s been plan and how it’s been executed– let’s just see if I still feel that way in October when it’s over with.

More Timelines Coming Into Focus for Hockey Season 2020-21

As leagues start to set their target dates for their own reboot, John Hoven of SiriusXM dropped a little tidbit about the AHL that kind of caught my eye and it wasn’t until a second reading that it struck me.

An opt-in/out deadline.

It’s not insane to think of this being a thing, especially since we’ve seen that traveling for sports hasn’t paid off the best dividends so far. However, the biggest thing is the chain reaction this could make overall for teams and their affiliates.

As it stands, about one-third of the AHL is independently owned from their NHL affiliate, so those would be the ones that would be hurt the most with no fans in the arena, which could mean they would be more apt to opt-out for the season rather than take a bigger financial loss by operating without any money to counteract it.

For an entire season, a bubble situation doesn’t seem very viable, as the logistics as it is for the playoffs is pushing the capacity of the ice makers– albeit summer is much different than winter for humidity and all of that. Still, the availability of a location and the stir-craziness that could come from that would most likely be detrimental to the players for an entire season.

There’s plenty of iron out in a short time as they have a week before a vote is put forth, if we are to believe this timeline is true. With the SPHL announcing their plans to restart, you have to think that the rest of the minor leagues will start to make moves– especially with the NHL putting their timeline out there and now the AHL kind of lining up with the same; the ECHL will probably be in that same boat. Should be interesting to see in the next coming weeks.

John Chayka Checks Out on Coyotes Before Reboot

Okay, so this Arizona Coyotes thing is just as Arizona Coyotes as it gets, right??

John Chayka quits the team days before the playoffs, this after another team requested to talk with him about a job and after owner Alex Meruelo and his team took over contract discussions with Taylor Hall. Seeing the writing possibly on the wall, Chayka bails and now the team is going to the league to see what they can do with his contract.

It’s hard to believe that Meruelo was said to be a fan of Chayka and his style, which lead to Chayka having his contract extended. Then Chayka goes and does this because the ownership group started to micro-manage talks with a pending free agent; which has to be an odd situation considering the Coyotes are almost at the cap limit as it is with Hall’s contract going to bring in much more that the $6M he’s getting now.

Obviously, Chayka is going to be blamed for the money issues– he is the GM afterall. But wouldn’t he have to get clearance from Meruelo or previous owner Andrew Barroway to even get the money for those moves??

When Chayka came in, he was the wunderkind of this new movement toward analytics some NHL teams were making. At just 26, Chayka came from an analytics company called Stathletes founded by himself and his sister Meghan. However, for Chayka; the only playoff appearance a team under his watch has seen is this one with the expanded playoff format, as they were fifth in the Pacific prior to the pause.

Are the Coyotes jackasses for undercutting the job of their GM in contract talks?? Sure, especially when he’s not present to get a write-off dinner out of it. Is Chayka a quitter and may have screwed his team over with the contract given?? Well, the numbers don’t really lie.

Is it a shocking surprise that it’s Arizona having to deal with this?? Kind of, especially when they looked to be going in the right direction for long-term growth. It’s almost a shame that it’s going down like this and playing out as chaotically as it is prior to the NHL Reboot. But so it goes with the Coyotes.

The NHL Bubbles That Span City Blocks

The NHL unveiled the layout for their bubble for the restart of the 2019-20 season. I don’t know why they felt the need to show where they were going to be, but here we are. It’s the same question I had for when they told the general public where the players were going to stay.

Sure, people know where the NBA players are staying, but their bubble is actually a bubble. The NHL is basically having their own zone that they’ll call a bubble…which in Toronto is spanned across the damn city. It’s insane how little of a bubble this bubble actually is. There might be precautions, but the vast layout of this landscape is amazingly out of touch with the rest of the sporting world.

Courtesy NHL Media

In Toronto, one of the hotels is about two miles from the arena and the other hotel. Though they have access to BMO Field for dryland, unless there’s a series of tubes or tunnels; I don’t know how secure that is for those people in this situation. They can pimp out the diverse bars, movie theaters, tennis courts, and the like– but it’s insane to me that these hotels and stuff around right next to each other to give some kind of semblance of a bubble area.

Courtesy NHL Media

Edmonton is a little bit better of a control zone, as the NHL was able to fit it all on one map. That’s by design though, as Daryl Katz was all about creating a small city atmosphere when he envisioned this new arena for the Oilers. Little did he know about a pandemic…though he did work in pharmaceuticals and if you believe conspiracy theorists– maybe he did know. But, while the hotels and such are closer; still two city blocks between the hotels and all.

Forget the media whining about their access, the fact that these guys are so spread out across the cities is a bit head-scratching. Who knows how secure this will be with blocking outside influences from the players and keeping the players within this landscape before there’s some kind of breakaway. More over, I have to wonder what delusional person is going to be fanatical enough to try and break through the bubble to go viral– in the internet sense and maybe the health sense. Don’t say it won’t happen, but it’s Canada, it’s hockey, and those two can be a pridefully volatile mix.

They Actually Did It

The Seattle Kraken is the Boaty McBoatface of the sports landscape. Forget the rest of the identity, but the fact people willed this into existence through social media and tricking the powers-that-be in Seattle this was a good idea– it happened. It’s kind of fascinating they actually went with it; but aside from the dumb idea of renaming them the Metropolitans or calling them a fish name in Sockeyes…this had to be it, right??

Overall, the look is fine. The blue on blue on blue with a hint of red is a nice look. The logo looks a tad weird in that it looks more serpent-like than cephalopod, but the secondary logo of the anchor with the space needle is a solid nod to the city. But…the name it something that still will hang with them through and through.

However, this is just another step for the NHL’s latest team. The hype was surrounding it, they’ve put it off because of the fact that there’s a pandemic going on with a side of racial injustice, and there’s more serious things to deal with over an expansion team identity. Now, with this, an arena title sponsor, and all of that done. It’s time to look forward to who will be the first Kraken roster player. With Vegas, it was Reid Duke; so it might be a safe bet that’ll be an overage major junior free agent next season and that’ll be that then.

But it’s nice to put a face and a name to the city. It’s an identity that’s very specific to the sea with a color scheme close to the other teams in the city to create a unity, of sorts, to the sporting community of Seattle. With a sharp logo and buzz around the name– it’s probably going to be a solid seller for the basic shirts and such because people will want to get on the ground floor and show their support for the new team; especially if the silliness of the name wears off and people just go with the flow.

On the Topic Of NHL’s Bubble Hockey

As we creep closer and closer to the bubble of the NHL being a real thing and the 2019-20 season resuming, there’s a lot to take in. Here’s my thoughts that no one asked for on a whole lot of them.

First, and probably most importantly, is the health aspect of it. Bill Daly has always said that one or two tests won’t spark a complete stoppage, but what is the magic number?? Especially as you get teams into the bubble and they start to intermingle with each other, there’s a slight possibility of positive testings. Could there be a chance that the virus could wipe out a team’s playoff hopes once they get to the bubble; much like it did to some MLS team?? It’s all up to the league and teams to actually be beyond strict with maintaining the bubble and isolating anyone who may seem to be down with the sickness. That said, the numbers coming out of the NBA bubble are a sign of the bubble process working, even with two positive tests coming from the NHL side.

Second, the latest one of the five-second delay in the broadcast that’ll happen and some people are upset about. Understandable to be upset, especially when most people got hyped when HBO had “The Road to the Winter Classic” and everyone heard all the swear words. As much as I like the swearing in the midst of a game, I don’t know if I need to hear it constantly on the ice during the playoffs. It starts to lose it’s luster after a while– plus, these guys are cliche with their post-game comments; I’m sure they’ll be as plain with their cursing chirps, as well.

Third, can this lead to extended playoff fields?? Sure, we all know that the NHL has more than half their league currently making the playoffs. But for owners, the playoffs are solid money and for the league, that’s more hockey related revenue for the business. The question then becomes if owners will want to drop up to four home regular season dates for that to happen. Playoffs aren’t always a given, but with a new model in more teams making it– that’s where owners can raise the price, more teams can have playoff appearances, and a shorter regular season can finally happen.

Fourth, and the final one for now: the eeriness of the empty arena. We know, the teams are looking for cringe cell phone footage from fans to play in the arena to liven it up; but it’s not going to be continuous. I’m shocked with how the EA Sports team hold the rights to the video game franchise hasn’t said they’ll help pump in some faux crowd noise. However, is it going to make a bit of a difference to the players?? Is it something they’ll actually enjoy?? Is this their perfect playing situation, despite about what they say about the league’s fan base??

On the Topic Of Return to Play

Vancouver Canucks practice PRE-shutdown

We’re in the Return to Play era of the 2019-20 season and we couldn’t be more conflicted with how things should be handled. There’s a group of people who think this is a good idea, something we needs, and a distraction. There’s a group that’s want the season to end, have concern for the player’s health, and don’t care for distractions in these trying times.

Not going to lie, but I’m on the fence of both.

Overall, the NHL has seemingly done a lot to make sure testing is accessible, players and staff who do test positive are isolated quickly, and want to make sure when they get into the bubbles; they’re safer than they would be if they weren’t in a bubble.

The biggest thing is this training camp to bubble time, where the NHL hopes that the players self-isolate and not get into health trouble like how reports are circulating about the St. Louis Blues had a get-together and had multiple positive cases after.

After three-plus months of isolation, you could expect that there would be positive cases in the absence of a vaccine. People aren’t intertwined with people outside of who they isolated with, so they’ll have to build an immunity to it without a vaccine. It really shouldn’t shock everyone, but that’s where the “Shut the Season” people lose me because one or two positive tests aren’t an alarm for shutting the whole thing down.

That’s where the opt-out comes in and good on the players who have opted out for putting their health first or because they didn’t feel like they’d be in peak condition or wanted to travel and then not play at all. The NHL gave them that option, teams on the surface are giving two thumbs up to the players making that decision, and most of the fans are understanding in why these players are doing it.

Where the real lookout is going to be is two weeks from today. By all accounts, the C19 takes a two-week period for positives to come through, if not sooner. With all the players back in full, the look at testing and the results will be under a bigger microscope. While the NHL has said that a rash of positives aren’t going to bury the season from their point of view, you have to wonder if public and/or sponsor pressure (brought on by the public or by their own accord) would be something that torpedoes the season.

However, you have to look to NASCAR to see a small sample of how to deal with a possible test of a name driver. Jimmie Johnson publicly shared a positive test on July 3rd. He missed the race that weekend at Indianapolis, but returned this past weekend at Kentucky after two consecutive days of negative tests. If that’s the case for the NHL and the cases that are positive are asymptomatic like Johnson’s were…I could see why the season wouldn’t be shuttered because of some positive testing. Plus, the driver himself had more questions than answers after the double-negative after the positive.

It’s hard to predict what way the virus and the sporting leagues will go. Learning new things everyday about the virus and then having to change what was learned because of new information is very goal-post-moving, but something that’s necessary for these unprecedented times.

TEPID TAKE: The Best Possible Draft Lottery Outcome

After having time to think about it– the mystery Team E winning the NHL Draft Lottery is the BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME for the Qualifying Round of the playoff restart.

Yes, it sucks for teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators to not get a top pick after being terrible this past season. That said, some might say that getting Alexis Lafreniere isn’t going to be the cure-all for those teams. It would be nice, sure, but at the same time– it may not address the needs those teams need in the long-run.

But with Team E winning the Draft Lottery, it will get more people into the Qualifying Round and to pay attention to those who get eliminated. If the NHL and NBC marketing teams were smart, they’d have a little side promotion about how even if you lose out– you might still win with the 1st overall pick in the Draft. It might hook on some people who may not watch the qualifying rounds because it’s teams just getting back going after four months of a layoff, but it adds another thing of weirdness to an already weird timeline we’re living in.

Granted, there’s going to be plenty of conspiracy theorist that the NHL rigged this for certain teams to get a chance should they be eliminated in that qualifier, especially if teams who are already loaded– like Pittsburgh and Edmonton– get the first pick through fate. Even so, though– it would be a nice little touch for teams that are hated because they have so much talent to get more and for fans around the league to have a black-hat villain to look towards.

While this wasn’t the most unconventional Draft Lottery– that is held by the 2005 Lottery– this is probably the most fun. I’m all for chaos and schadenfreude in the the NHL, it makes watching it fun for me. This was the best outcome for the league because of the fact they need all the attention they can get, especially with the pause of the season. To get eyes on the game because the qualifiers will help determine who gets the top prospect of the draft is an amazing gimmick.

It’s easy to understand why people are butt-hurt. It may have looked like a bad idea for the league to have a Draft Lottery with teams who haven’t lost yet getting the top pick, but in the grand schemes– this is the best possible outcome and may translate into more people paying attention to the qualifying rounds when they may not have.

Though, let’s be honest, it might not be a concern at all if the NHLPA doesn’t agree to the season ending or the qualifying round getting stopped due to sickness– but it’s still a nice thought to have that it becomes Mario Kart rules where even if you lose in the playoffs– you could possibly win the top overall pick in the Draft.

Black Bears Getting Fresh Threads for ’20-21

With the auctioning off of the jerseys for the first two years, it became clear the Maryland Black Bears would have new ones coming– but no one knew the kind of design they would have. That got answered on Monday when Black Bears owner Murry Gunty dropped huge news on Twitter Monday, showing off the new jerseys for the Black Bears for the next season and beyond.

Both of the new jerseys are very Maryland-centric, with the flag being displayed prominently. As well, the Black Bears will use just the roaring bear for their jersey and not the crest from the first two season. The home yellows will have the Maryland flag completely across the chest and elbows, while the away blacks have a smaller, banner-like look to the flag across the hem and elbows. The shoulder patch is that of the original crest on the first jerseys.

They are quite the departure from the traditional jerseys that the Black Bears have worn to start the franchise, but this feels like the correct move forward. With the addition of the Maryland flag everywhere, it really puts it into the mind of others that this is Maryland’s hockey team. It will also stand out, with yellow being an unconventional home jersey color; but one that catches the eye across the league.

Personally, this is a great change, even if it seemingly came out of nowhere with the design change. I’m a big fan of the standing bear logo and though it would look great standing alone as the primary logo. While I did like the old ones for the traditional feel, the added Maryland touch is great progress for this team and the footprint they have with the community. There is one little critique I have and that’s the bottom hem of the black jersey and the Crossland flag being a bit cut off looking, which took me a little time to figure out what it was. Aside from that small thing– it’s tremendous and only hope the socks will have the Maryland flag on them in some way, shape, or form.