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Eight predictions for the 24-team NHL format

May 22, 2020, 8:03 AM ET [2 Comments]
Kevin Allen
Blogger •HHOF Writer's column on the NHL • RSSArchiveCONTACT
With the NHL and the NHL Players Association en route to a 24-team season resumption format, it’s not too early for predictions on what will occur when play resumes in July:

1. Early upsets will infuriate some fan bases: The NHL and NHLPA were in a can't-win situation in determining who should still be playing. They were never going to please everyone. What they are close to settling on was a plan designed to give bubble teams a chance to qualify for the 16 playoff teams. The argument: one or more of the bubble teams, out when the pause occurred, likely would have made the playoff field if the regular-season went 82 games.

But some believe this format, with the No. 5 through No. 12 teams in each conference, playing a best-of-five series to determine who makes the top 16, went too far. No way, they argue, were the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks going to make the playoffs if 82-game regular-season had been played out.

That’s why you can almost count on the No. 12 Eastern team Montreal beating the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round or the No. 12 Western team Chicago downing the Edmonton Oilers. Imagine the uproar in Pittsburgh or Edmonton if the city’s beloved teams falls in that extra round.

2. In the early going, offense will be ahead of defense: Offense is about instincts, creativity and skill. A team’s defensive game is about hard work, consistency, repetition and chemistry. Hard-working teams will still be hard-working, but it may take them a round to find the rhythm and cohesiveness required to regain their defensive might.

3. We might see 1980s style individual statisticss: See the last prediction and remember that everyone has recovered the bangs and bruises they had during the regular-season. They feel fresh. Players such as Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, David Pastrnak, etc. could put up big numbers if their team goes deep into the playoffs. Look for a defenseman like John Carlson, Cale Makar to pile up the points as well.

4. The Maple Leafs will have the right to complain about bad luck: Not only do they have to play the extra round, but they land the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that may have benefited most from the NHL hitting the pause button. Most of the Blue Jackets, including Seth Jones, are healthy again and the Blue Jackets are considered one of the sleepers in the field. With John Tortorella behind the bench, you know they will be difficult to play against.

5. The Minnesota Wild will beat the Vancouver Canucks in their play-in round series: When play was halted, the Wild had been among the NHL’s most impressive teams for a while. Interim coach Dean Evason helped the Wild figure out who they were. The Canucks have been a confidence/momentum/good karma team all season. It is difficult to re-ignite that combination after a three-month break.

6. American TV NHL playoff ratings will be better than usual: Americans are starved for live sporting competition, and hockey fans have missed their sport.

7. Early scrums and physical encounters will be weird: When players get nose to nose after the whistle, it is going to occur to them that this is dangerous behavior in a pandemic? Are we going to celebrate goals as a group? Don’t think so. It will be strange in the beginning. Will players wrestle like they have in the past? Maybe not as frequently.

8. A player will test positive: It seems likely, no matter how hard the league and NHL Players Association worked to make conditions safe. But a couple of positives tests won’t necessarily end the season, provided the outbreak is quickly contained. That’s why frequent testing is promised. The only way the season gets cancelled is if a team or teams become overrun by COVID-19. Precautions have been taken to make sure that doesn't happen.
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