What’s the biggest aspect of the entire Return to Play that you’re most intrigued by?
James O’Brien, NHL writer: The larger answer is how the NHL will handle any COVID-19 outbreaks/infections. But that’s not a whole lot of fun to talk about, is it?
So, instead of that … I’m really curious to see if the presentation comes together. Personally, I lean toward “less is more,” especially since the sounds of the game are so soothing. But the NHL wants to grab attention and keep it, so will the league find the right balance between style and substance? Might that formula change as time goes along?
(COVID-19 permitting, of course.)
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: How will players be able to deal with bubble life for potentially two months? During a normal playoff there are road trips and then those days when you play at home and can sleep in your own bed and see your family. This could be one very long road trip without the chance to see your family until the conference final. Could that almost be a benefit, where their life is strictly going to the rink for practices and games and back to the hotel to hang out with your teammates. It might serve as a boost to team chemistry and team morale.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Pretty much everything about the format and how all of it is going to be perceived as it plays out in front of us. There is always an element of unpredictability to hockey, and especially in the playoffs, and I feel like all of that is going to get kicked up an extra notch this season. The lack of travel, the lack of crowds, the fact there are an extra eight teams in the field to potentially get hot and go on runs, and how pretty much everything that happened during the regular season is now meaningless. This is for all intents and purposes the start of a new season after a four-month offseason. It does not matter who was hot or cold when we last saw hockey. This is a fresh start with fully healthy rosters. What happens if Montreal or Chicago, teams that had no chance of making the playoffs, get hot? What if Pittsburgh or Toronto loses and then wins the draft lottery? There are so many chaotic possibilities here.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I am interested to see how much better all teams are going to play without travelling. You often see tired teams in the post-season, especially when there is a lot of travel (in the Western Conference especially as the cities are usually spaced out quite a bit over three time zones) and I am expecting the play to be fast and exciting once everyone shakes out their doldrums.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’m most curious to see whether the top four teams in each conference will struggle when they match up against their opponent from the Qualifying Round. Those teams that emerge from their best-of-five series will have played at least a few games at playoff-level intensity. The top four teams are simply playing Round Robin games for seeding – hardly the same stakes. I would not be surprised to see a healthy dose of First Round upsets given this year’s unique format.
Which team not considered a favorite do you think can make a deep run?
James O’Brien, NHL writer: Just about everyone has that team that lures them in with a siren call of potential, despite all of the times they dropped the ball. Lately, the Calgary Flames have been that team. They have their flaws, particularly in net. Also, Mark Giordano isn’t getting any younger, and Johnny Gaudreau seems like he’s almost going through an identity crisis.
And …yet, and … yet. I look at some of the strengths of that Flames team and can’t help but wonder if they might be able to put a run together. Yeah, I’m a sucker.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: A goaltender carrying his team through the postseason is almost an annual tradition. Connor Hellebuyck carried the Jets during the regular season, which is why he’s likely to win the Vezina Trophy (and should have been a Hart finalist). Winnipeg’s not lacking for offensive weapons, and if their blue line can do a better job at suppressing shots at even strength, they could knock a few teams off.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I was a lot higher on Nashville during the season than most people were, so, what the heck, I am going to stick with that. Their special teams were a disaster this season, but they were a really good team at even-strength and I still like the roster overall. The biggest thing they need is one of their goalies to play at least reasonably well and both of them are very capable of doing that. Maybe a fresh start helps one of them get on the right track.
Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The Vancouver Canucks. They have a lot of exciting, young players (Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser) up front with some veterans like J.T. Miller, Antoine Roussel and the returning Micheal Ferland. They have a good defense with Quinn Hughes, Alexander Edler and Tyler Myers leading the way. But I am a big Jacob Markstrom fan and I think he can backstop the Canucks into the second round of the playoffs at the very least. I hope I don’t look bad and have Minnesota knock them out in the play-in round.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I’ll go with Toronto. The Leafs have a couple of holes in their roster, but they were the 3rd-highest scoring team this season and have the talent to beat anyone. They’ll need Frederik Andersen to stay healthy, but if he does, I think Toronto has a serious chance. Remember: this team had two tries to eliminate the eventual East champion Bruins last year, but lost Games 6 and 7.
Plus, how can you ignore the fact that Toronto will be playing in their home arena through the Second Round? The stars may be aligning for the Leafs to end their 53-year Cup drought.