If Matt Duchene had his way, the 2019-20 NHL season would be completed the traditional way: a 16-team playoff with best-of-seven series.
As for figuring out the playoff teams with an unfinished regular season schedule? That’s a little dicey.
“There’s no fair way to say who should be in and who should be out because of not playing the full season, not playing the full 82, but for lack of a better word somebody’s gonna get screwed,” Duchene said during Sportsnet’s Hockey Central on Tuesday.
Duchene’s employer, the Predators, currently hold the last Western Conference wild card spot due to a tiebreaker with the Canucks. Both teams have played 69 games, and while Vancouver has one more total victory (36), Nashville has the edge due to one more regulation win.
“I think the integrity of our game has to be maintained,” Duchene said, who emphasized for any resumption of play model to be as safe as possible for all involved. “I think with what the Stanley Cup means, with the guys’ names on the Cup, what they went through, 82 games and then 20-plus games to win the Stanley Cup. That sacrifice, going into another team’s barn and stealing a game in front of their fans in a hostile environment, pressure at home, all those things. That has to be maintained as best as possible. I doubt we’re going to be able to do that 100% if we are able to come back but I would like to see as traditional a format as possible.”
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From all indications, any Stanley Cup playoff format would feature shorter series, at least in the early rounds. Duchene said his best-of-seven plan might work “because guys are gonna be fresh and you can play a game at 3 o’clock on Friday and at 7 on Saturday and there’s no travel.”
One angle that’s been discussed among fans is how legit any championship given the circumstances will be perceived. Should it be given an asterisk because the regular season could be cut short and the playoff format would be unique? (Uh, no). That’s something Duchene said is a concern moving forward with any decision on the season.
“You don’t want to have a COVID Cup,” he said. “I’m worried that if we force this thing and try and it’s a little gimmicky or if it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is gonna have people trying to take it away from them their whole lives and they don’t deserve that,” he said. “I feel very passionately about this part of things.
“I think it’s sacrilegious if we don’t appreciate what [previous winners] did and make it as big of a challenge and [with] as much integrity as possible for going forward. … I know guys are going to want this to mean something if we do come back.”
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.