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.

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.

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.

TEPID TAKE: The Reboot

Okay, let’s just take a step back to process the craziness about what the NHL rolled out Tuesday in regards to ending the 2019-20 season. I won’t get into the Draft Lottery too much because…well, I need a team of scientist to decipher it. But the reboot of the season– this is something that’s been polarizing with a good amount of people on the “what are you thinking side of things” for one reason or another.

Before it’s started, the biggest thing is that this can all be dissolved by the players, who will need to collectively bargain this roll out. If they say no, then it’s done and you can’t blame them because even with the NHL saying they’ve got enough kits to test every day…still some people are going to be apprehensive, rightfully so; especially with the failures of some tests and testing labs.

In any case, the regular season is done in the biblical sense. The NHLPA still said that the “qualification” rounds may have stats count towards the regular season totals before the post-season totals count. It’s a bit odd considering that it’s a playoff scenario, but not really a playoff since other teams are playing for positioning at the top of the table– but let’s not let that get in the way of a confusing roll-out.

Hub Cities (TM) are still to be determined with 10 finalists being there and waiting like it was an Olympic bid or American Idol. That’s going to be more interesting than how to figure out the draft lottery. I’m sure any city will be great to hold it in, though with no fans and probably players not going out on the town– doesn’t really matter outside of the facilities that those cities will bolster for the players.

I’ve been on the fence between doing a 31-team tournament to shutting the whole thing down. As we sit here with a 24-team format, I’m more okay with it. Nothing to do about being a completionist, but if you believe the NHL in having enough tests and saying the test will be every day….why not get it done?? There’s going to be some people upset the NHL got those tests, but if they bought it through legit means– very little to be done; just ask Larry Hogan about buying tests for the betterment of his state. Sure, the next season will be super late on the calendar and lack on because of the 82-game format they’re hoping for– but if there’s a chance to play, why not take it out for a spin??

The Draft Lottery is more convoluted because there’s two phases which include the teams that don’t advance in the play-in round. How the NHL couldn’t have just gone with the seven teams that didn’t make it be in the lottery and then the rest fall as they may– much like the other seasons when it comes to the Draft….but that’s too easy. Gotta mix it up, gotta go outside the box.

There’s A LOT to be done still. Like I said, if at any point the NHLPA feels slighted, then they can nix this deal and the whole thing is dead in the water. I don’t think anyone would fault them for it like it were some kind of labor strife. This decision can either go really right and nothing bad happens and people panicked over nothing though they were justified in doing so at the time. It could also go very sideways, very quickly and the NHL and NHLPA look like fools for rushing back in just to do so.

If nothing else– it’s making for a wonderful story to be told in a future “30 For 30.”

Now Hear Me Out, Practice Rinks

With the idea of the NHL coming back around July or whatever and so many weird scenarios being thrown out there, the location(s) of the events are going to be crucial. Of course, the idea of a big, vacant arena is a trippy situation that’ll border on the absurd to open up the venue when getting no revenue out of it.

But what about practice facilities?? This is something Captain Chaos Jonny P thought of during the April 29th edition of Face Off Hockey Show.

Sure, there’s going to be some players weary of it because the training facilities aren’t going to be up to snuff with the exception of the main weight room area, but why not think about going to the practice rinks in order to play these games?? It seems like something that’ll won’t really cost that much in comparison to the actual giant arena.

There’s not going to be fans in attendance, thus not going to be need for much arena staff, outside of bare bones security; the big time presentation on ice isn’t needed– just speakers. A temporary set-up for the media could be put up if need be, because most practice rinks don’t have the control center for big money productions. The rinks are all the same in dimensions and really the only thing that may not be up to snuff could be the system that holds the nets on– but you’d hope that’s been addressed when they built the facility knowing that a NHL team would be doing their training there and you want the game-experience there to not really mess up a rhythm.

Looking at all angles, it only makes sense because it’ll be low overhead when you look at going practice rink versus the big arena. It’ll already be unique in the situation we’re in right now, so why not double and triple down on the situations, while saving a few bucks for not having to open the big stage when not making any income from it at all. Just a thought to save some kind of money– which could really help everyone in the end going forward.

Pushing Back The 2020-21 Season

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 12: A goal sits on the empty ice prior to the Detroit Red Wings playing against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775376586 ORIG FILE ID: 1212022895

According to Pierre LeBrun, the start of the 2020-21 season will be in December; accounting for the idea that the NHL season will resume in July like some people are hypothesizing. LeBrun said that the league would hope to have a full 82-game slate for the squads, but is there a chance that isn’t feasible.

It’s hard for everyone right now being without entertainment as their cooped up in the house in this Schrodinger world we’re living in, but you also have to look out for common sense. Money is going to be lost by the NHL because the odds are good that no fans will be allowed for whatever’s left for the 2019-20 season. Yet, the biggest thing to look at is the idea that players will be very worn out from the summer hockey and then however short the offseason is for them and then right into the next season in December. The start and stop aspect probably isn’t the most ideal, especially when the goal is a 82-game affair and everything that would give breaks would be scrapped to get back on schedule for everyone.

Now, of course, there’s plenty of red-tape that the league will need to get through in order to go through with their plan of finishing the current season. The border of Canada and the US is closed, so teams there would need to figure out how the hell to get out and play if they indeed get this whole thing started up again. Then you have to hope the proper testing is in place because one setback could ruin the entire rest of 2019-20, despite what Bill Daly may have said. You also have to wonder how keen the players are to fit all those games in what looks like it could be an 11-month window.

As much as I miss live hockey, the idea that we need to push for it to come back in the most uncertain of times seems very short-sighted, the business aspect be damned. What’s gained by getting back on the ice sooner than needed?? What’s gained by further pushing the players’ bodies by keeping the schedule for next year the same, while giving them much less off-time for said schedule and taxing their bodies even more?? Is it worth rushing things for this season and then condensing next season in order to not lose as much money?? These are the questions that need to be asked when you look at the entire scope of things.

If the NHL is rushing back just to get back, then it could be a high-risk, high reward situation. If it pays off, they look like geniuses for getting back when they did and plotting out things to get back on track by the 2021-22 season. If it stumbles and turns out to be the worst thing to happen to hockey– they might not hear the end of it. I don’t envy those making these decisions, but they can’t make it in haste just because we’re all anxious and bored with no live sports.

On the Topic Of the NHL in North Dakota

When you hear people talk about Ralph Engelstad Arena, you hear the chorus of how beautiful it is and how much it’s as good as or better than (in some cases) most NHL arenas. With a passionate fan base for the University of North Dakota, along with the tradition the program has; it’s easy to see why they would want to have such a top-notch facility for their student-athletes and be able to use that to bring in top talent.

Now, it could be time to see how it does shape up to the NHL standard.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped some knowledge Sunday night that the NHL is looking at options if they should get their season back together in one way, shape, or form. One of the options has been Grand Forks, North Dakota and The Ralph. Friedman says that nothing is eminent, but it’s been floated around due to the facilities and the low population density that North Dakota does have in comparison to other states with rinks. Considering places like Toronto and Calgary say that they won’t have games in those cities until June 30th at the earliest; neutral site games are a must.

Logistically, however, could be an issues. While the Greater Grand Forks area (Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, MN) has about 30 hotels— not all of them are the nice, five-star places players may be used to and some hotels may not want to have a sharp influx of people from out of town given the climate of things. Of course, adding to that is the US/Canada border being closed for the time being, on top of the leagues voting how their season should go along and what format it needs to be in.

Not to mention, whether or not the state would be willing to take people in given North Dakota has a 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers, then to decide if there should be fans in the arena for the events given the pandemic, how you put first responders into the arena while taking away from the hospital in town and other red-tape that would be necessary to have this happen.

Personally, living here– it’d be a huge buzz for the area and something that people wouldn’t forget if it were to happen. Emphasis on “IF.” There’s no doubt that the facilities of The Ralph are beyond comparison in some instances and that it does have the ability to house a regional tournament should that be the case. And it’s not like they haven’t hosted NHL game before, albeit preseason games— but the area has houses many IIHF events with multiple nations represented with teams and with fan bases.

While I’m still of the opinion the NHL should shutter the season for the sanity of everyone and not to give people false hope only to diminish that hope later, this could be interesting overall. It’d give the local economy a boost with lodging and food and such, it’d give people something to look out for when it comes to sports in the area, and it’d being back some kind of normalcy to the landscape a whole.

Plus, if I can get in to cover some of these games– I’ll take it.

But you also have to think about the long-term venture over the short-term solution. If it all makes sense and things are trending properly– then by all means, go with North Dakota and other neutral sites. However, if the states are cautious to it and don’t want it to happen– you have to respect their decision to keep the interest of their residents the top priority over the allure of a tick of normalcy.

Now Hear Me Out: Loser Moves On

We’re in some extreme times. The clock is ticking down on the NHL season for 2019-20, even though they’re really trying to keep a brave face considering they’re losing billions if they in fact do cancel. Especially with the postponement of the NHL Combines, Awards (NOT THOSE!!!), and the Draft; there’s some pretty crazy ideas out there about if the season were to be severely delayed– who could get the first overall pick; especially since if the league were to come back; they’d go right into the playoffs.

There’s one eager team that thinks there’s only one way to rightfully see who gets the top pick– a tournament. Basically the NIT of the NHL. Sure, seems unfair to fuck over Detroit and Ottawa of that possible pick– despite the assurances they’re allegedly going to get.

This is a good idea. I think we all like a one-and-done situation, where each game is Game Seven. However…NOW HEAR ME OUT…THE LOSER MOVES ON IN THE TOURNAMENT!!

Why would the team that wins this whole damn thing be in line for a lottery pick?? In fact, it actually proves the opposite because if they win that damn thing; they’re the team that needs the least help of a lottery pick. Of course, you have to think it’s a fringe team that proposed this in hopes of fleecing the league and other teams to bolster their line-up and really spit in the face of parity.

Yet, when you think of the whole “LOSER MOVES ON” thing, it makes sense because teams that lose need the better odds at a lottery pick. Plus, after this break, you think players really want to prolong the season they got paused for a meaningless tournament that they might not reap the benefits from.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT TANKING?!?!” You’re screaming because you’ve been couped up in the house too long. Well, if you believe that the hockey players mentality is that they want to win their last game of the year and, for contract-year players, show off their stuff and how they can excel in these games against lesser opponents…thus getting them more money on the open market. Plus, a return to their summer vacation over playing meaningless games.

Listen, if you’re going to have a tournament for the lottery picks, it needs to be limited to the six worst teams. The worst and second-worst will get byes and then face against the winners of the other games. It goes with the whole thing that a team can’t move up more than five spots. Give that hope to the sixth-worst team they could get the 2nd overall pick without the use of a lottery ball. That’s the only way in the scenario that a “winner-moves-on” idea works.

It’s chaos out there– so why not flip the script on tournaments and have the losers move forward for losing…like how the Draft is supposed to be weighted.