ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The National Hockey League (NHL) is getting closer to finalizing a plan to resume play. I thought it was unthinkable back in March when the season was paused, but all signs point that the Stanley Cup will indeed be awarded for the 2019-20 season.
Once I turn my calendar to the month of June, my mind normally starts drifting away from the NHL playoffs switching to the outdoors and enjoying the beautiful weather that the summer brings to us. Living in the Greater Montreal Area, we’re lucky if we get three months a year to get to sit outside comfortably wearing a pair of shorts.
I support the idea of hockey this summer as long as it’s safe for the players, the supporting staff of a team, and everyone behind the scenes required for games to be played. The health of everyone involved is more important that my entertainment.
Once the players hit the ice, I will be glued to my television this summer, and I anticipate most hockey fans will do the same.
When we look back at the 2020 calendar year, normal will be the last word used to describe it.
The “Return to Play” committee comprised of members from the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) have tentatively come to an agreement for the season to resume with 24 teams. A training camp and exhibition matches should be expected before any meaningful games are played in order to help the players get their game speed back following the long pause.
When the season was put on hold on March 12th, Sports Club Stats evaluated the Canadiens as having 0.0302 percent chance of clinching a playoff spot. “So you’re telling me there’s a chance,” said Lloyd Christmas, a character played by actor Jim Carrey in the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ Lloyd was right.
The season resuming with 24 teams will allow Montreal to fight for a playoff spot. The team finished 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 31-31-9 record in 71 games, which represents .500 point percentage.
No official word on the format itself, that needs to be approved by the NHL and the NHLPA. According to reports by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Wednesday, Montreal will face Pittsburgh in a best-of-five play-in series. The winner of the series would possibly play Philadelphia in a best-of-seven playoff series, depending on the seeding of the top four teams in the conference.
From an integrity of the game perspective, the Canadiens didn’t earn to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup this season. By doing so, it diminishes the importance of the regular season.
“Obviously I think we’re excited. Do I think it’s fair to the teams that were in the playoffs? No, but at the same time, that gives us a chance to win and I mean, it gives us a chance to keep playing. Obviously, the way situation we’re in where we weren’t officially out, but it would have been a tough road ahead to get in. And I think now it gives us a little bit of hope,” said Shea Weber on Friday during an interview with TSN Radio in Vancouver.
From a NHL business perspective, allowing an extra eight teams to play before jumping into the playoffs makes perfect sense. It makes even more sense when three of the eight added teams are in Montreal, Chicago, and New York. Three of the biggest North American hockey and television markets.
The pause due to the pandemic has cost significant revenue losses to the owners, and the players. More clubs hitting the ice, more fans will be watching, which is good news for ratings, sponsors, fan engagement, and ultimately the league. As the salary cap is directly linked to the league’s income, the NHLPA also has a vested interest in maximizing the revenues.
It has also been reported that if the 2019-20 season isn’t completed, multiple television contracts will bring in no revenue next year due to clauses in their deals. With games played in arenas that will be empty or reduced capacity, the league can’t afford to allow that happen.
Habs Possible Playoff Race
For the Canadiens, they come out as winners from a business perspective. Regardless of the format or the date on the calendar, the city of Montreal and the fan base will be buzzing to support their team that would be three wins away from entering the post-season. We will see the car flags being dusted off from deep inside the closets and supporters show off their team merchandise on the streets.
If the Habs end up having any kind of success, it will chase away the negativity surrounding the brand. A quick exit will have a neutral impact to the fan base that’s generally been disappointed with the organization’s lack of recent success.
“If the Canadiens make the playoffs, unfortunately we will not be able to have a parade this summer. I just wanted to be clear about that. And we’re not working very hard on a plan B either,” said Quebec Premier Francois Legault during Thursday’s provincial pandemic update. Legault’s lack of optimism towards the team is widely shared by the fan base, that the organization wants to eliminate.
It will sound odd, but I truly believe that the best way for the organization to take steps towards building a contender is by failing it’s return. By doing so, it will force Marc Bergevin to focus on acquiring a top center, an elite forward, and improve the defence.
Any kind of success will camouflage the organization’s needs and give a false impression that the team is closer to being a contender than reality. When Carey Price is your goalie, winning is strong probability. As initially reported by The New York Post last week, one of the cited reasons for players opposing to the 24-team return is that they didn’t want to face a rested Price. The goalie has publicly voiced his desire to win over the last couple of years. His motivation will be through the roof to succeed and carry the team into a deep run.
Even though the statistics show the opposite, success would also allow Bergevin to tell the fans at his end of season press conference that injuries explained the poor results that led the team to 12th spot in the Eastern Conference. It will give the general manager a free pass if he isn’t able to improve the club during a second consecutive off season.
All of the above goes out the window if the Canadiens manage to win the Stanley Cup. In that case, they would have earned to participate in the playoffs, and we’ll give the general manager a pass for not improving the team last summer.
By Chris G., Senior Writer
All Habs Hockey Magazine
Copyright © 2019 Rocket Sports
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