Connor McDavid would prefer if the NHL played out the rest of the 2019-20 schedule once the coronavirus pandemic has passed and the league resumes play. Going straight into the playoffs after all this time off? Not ideal, the Oilers captain said on a Friday video conference with reporters.
“I think [the standings] look pretty good right now,” said McDavid of his second-place Oilers. “But you want a fair season. And a fair season is a full season. If we can do that, then that’s what we’d obviously prefer. I don’t think we can just step into playoffs, Game 1, Calgary comes to Edmonton, and guys are just running around killing each other and haven’t played a game in two months. It’ll end up the [AHL] Stockton Heat versus the Bakersfield Condors if that’s the case. We want to keep guys healthy and we want to make sure everyone’s up and ready to play some playoff hockey.”
Flames captain Mark Giordano would also prefer to see a full 82-game schedule played out, but a prolonged pause and an emphasis on not affecting the 2020-21 season would be a factor.
“I’ve thought a lot about this,” said Giordano, whose Flames are in third place in the Pacific Division, four points behind the Oilers. “In a perfect world, you want to play a full regular season and whoever gets in, gets in. But I don’t think realistically we’re going to have that time.”
The Flames and Oilers have a bit of a cushion in their divisional playoff race, but what about a team like the Coyotes, who are four points out a wild card spot and five points behind Calgary in the division?
“I think it’s only fair to start where we left off here,” said Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “It would be good for the playoffs too, to get those games going again and get into a playoff spot and be ready for a really good playoffs. I think that would benefit all of us.”
One playoff format idea that’s been floated is using points percentage and including a few more than the usual 16 teams. Giordano isn’t a fan of the points percentage idea, but is keen on 12 teams in each conference making the postseason with Round 1 byes for top teams.
One thing Giordano and his fellow Pacific Division captains agreed on was that should a 2020 postseason be played, the time off would ensure a quality tournament.
“If we can ever get back to playing, it’s going to be one of the best playoffs ever,” said Giordano. “You’re going to be playing the best version of every team.”
With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Putrid power play spoils special teams
Yes, the Blackhawks aren’t the dynastic team they once were. Their defense, in particular, just can’t keep up like it used to.
But there’s still some serious scoring skill on this roster, and it’s not just the obvious in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks clearly nabbed a steal in Alex DeBrincat, while Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad, Dominik Kubalik and others give Chicago strong four-forward options on the PP.
Yet, for whatever reason, the Blackhawks’ power play simply didn’t click in 2019-20.
The Blackhawks received 217 power-play opportunities, the eighth-highest total in the NHL. Chicago squandered far too many of those chances, managing 33 PPG (tied for 23rd in NHL) and 15.2 success rate (28th). The Blackhawks also gave up eight shorthanded goals, tied for seventh-most in the league.
Chicago sits at a -6 goal differential this season, and can chalk that up to its punchless power play, as their PK was pretty effective. (It just wasn’t good enough to make up for a poor power play.)
Blackhawks goaltending was both a pleasant surprise and an indirect disappointment
Ever since the Blackhawks collapsed from contention, the modified strategy turned to “outscoring their problems.”
Failing on the power play was disappointing in that regard, and it also feels like it contributed to the Blackhawks squandering strong goaltending in 2019-20.
After his surprising free agent departure from the Islanders, Robin Lehner barely missed a beat for Chicago. He managed a .918 save percentage in 33 games before being shipped to the Golden Knights. Considering Chicago’s defense, a .918 mark with the Blackhawks is almost as impressive as his .930 in Barry Trotz’s nurturing defensive system.
Such strong play slipped under the radar, and it’s easy to understand why. Since Jan. 1, Crawford managed merely a 10-9-1 record in 20 games … while generating a fantastic .928 save percentage. Overall, Crawford sits at .917 for 2019-20, just a stride behind Lehner.
The Blackhawks receiving such strong goaltending from one of Lehner or Crawford wouldn’t have been surprising, but both? Yeah, that should count among the surprises for the Blackhawks. At the same time, failing to take advantage of that goaltending edge ranks among their biggest disappointments.
(Deciding to trade Robin Lehner opens up a whole other discussion.)
Kubalik among positive surprises, DeBrincat among disappointments for Blackhawks
Predictably enough, Kane (84 points) and Toews (60) topped Chicago’s scorers in 2019-20. I’m not sure even Dominik Kubalik expected to rank third for the Blackhawks, though.
With 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games, the 24-year-old made a stunning jump from the Swiss league. While Kubalik did not go undrafted, he only barely avoided such a fate .(Los Angeles chose Kubalik 191st overall in 2013.)
Yes, expect Kubalik to cool off next season. Puck luck certainly aided Kubalik on his way to 30 goals, as his shooting percentage was at 19.1.
DeBrincat’s regression (45 points, fourth on team) ranks as one of the Blackhawks’ biggest disappointments, however. Blackhawks fans should still look at his extension as a likely bargain, but this was a tough year. At minimum, expect DeBrincat to enjoy more luck, as his shooting percentage was at a meager 8.7 this season.
If the NHL season is canceled, what’s something you’ll be disappointed not to be able to see?
SEAN: Missing out on Alex Ovechkin hitting 50 goals for the ninth time in his career and maybe adding a ninth Richard Trophy would be a bummer. Only two players in NHL history have scored 50 nine times — Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy — and for Ovi to hit that during a season where he reached 700 goals would have been a nice cherry on top.
Ovechkin would also be missing 13 games in his pursuit of Gretzky’s goals record of 894. He sits at 706 as we wait, only 188 goals away from The Great One.
JAMES: I’m assuming that “seeing the 2020 Stanley Cup awarded” would be a catch-all cheat answer. After all, that would cover things like “Will the Lightning avenge their first-round sweep?” and so on.
So, assuming that’s too wide a net to throw, I’ll toss my hat in the “Who wins the Maurice Richard Trophy?” ring. The season halted with David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin tied for first at 48, while Auston Matthews sat at 47. Leon Draisaitl was really gathering steam (43) while Mika Zibanejad somehow scored 41 goals in just 57 games.
It’s honestly a bummer just thinking about how fun that final push could have been.
ADAM: Probably just the unresolved storylines.
Whether or not David Pastrnak or Auston Matthews can unseat Alex Ovechkin on the goal scoring leaderboard. How many players can score 50 goals? We are on track to see more than we have seen in almost 15 years!
Would Pastrnak, Ovechkin, or Matthews score 60 goals? How many points will Leon Draisaitl end up with? How will the MVP and rookie of the year race play out? The playoff races and whether or not Columbus could hold on to a spot (I picked them to make the playoffs before the season and want to see this through!) and how or if the Rangers could hang around.
JOEY: It’s not often you get a repeat of the previous year’s Stanley Cup Final, but I really believed that the Blues and Bruins could make it all the way again. Both teams added pieces to their squads since last season, so it would’ve been interesting to see if they could go the distance again.
The Bruins came so close last year and they added some size with Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie at the deadline. As for St. Louis, they added a depth defender in Marco Scandella and they also traded for Justin Faulk at the beginning of the year.
There’s still a chance the season could happen, but you’d have to wonder if this extended pause would throw everything out of whack even if they did return.
SCOTT: On a personal level, I thought the Philadelphia Flyers would reach the Eastern Conference Finals this season and I’ll be disappointed not to see that savvy prediction come true.
But the part I’ll be most disappointed about is not seeing a player or group of players elevate their game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Every year, there are a few players that carry their team throughout the postseason and the opportunity to witness that greatness is always special. The NHL postseason comes around once a year and players only get so many opportunities throughout their career to take their shot. To see young players on the cusp of greatness and seasoned veterans robbed of their chance due to a global pandemic is truly disappointing.
You have one hockey movie to watch while quarantined, what are you choosing?
SEAN: “Mystery, Alaska” is one of those movies that whenever I come across it on TV I have to watch it through the end. There’s a solid cast with Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Burt Reynolds, Mary McCormack, and Mike Myers as the Don Cherry-type commentator. This is hockey, OK? It’s not rocket surgery.
There’s drama, the New York Rangers, and the movie doesn’t give you that typical feel-good ending.
JAMES: The common answer, I’d guess, would be “Slap Shot.” The cooler answer would probably be “Red Army.”
“Pass, shoot, score” and “The legs feed the wolf” …. “We can beat these guys.” There were a lot of cheesy Herb Brooks quotes my friends and I would bat around back in the day, so that would also soothe some of that quarantine loneliness.
ADAM: Probably going to go with the original Mighty Ducks just because it seems more and more absurd every time I watch it, which then results in me laughing more and enjoying it more. Basically, I have a lot of questions about the set-up and management of that hockey league (how did nobody know Adam Banks was playing for the wrong team?!), and if Jack Riley was such a good and successful coach, why did he never advance beyond the Hawks? So many questions.
JOEY: I’ll go with the Mighty Ducks series of movies. It’s hard to argue with Emilio Estevez and the gang. Also, I’d get to roll with three different movies during the quarantine period. Gordon Bombay all the way.
SCOTT: Mystery Alaska.
The components that make up the Mystery roster are on every team throughout the hockey world; The slow-footed shrewd skater, the hot-shot superstar, the prolific passers and the “strange” goalie. ‘
Also, the national anthem prank is something I always find quite comical.
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
What do you do if you’re an NHL player and don’t have access to your team’s workout facilities? If you’re Anders Lee you order a Peloton bike. If you’re Alex Ovechkin you have your personal trainer work you out in your home gym.
The NHL’s season pause due to the coronavirus pandemic has forced players to do what they can at home. Treadmills, push-ups, sit-ups, sprints, and chasing their kids are some of the methods being used.
“The biggest thing in all of this is you realize how spoiled we are with the way we train now,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told reporters on a Thursday video conference. “It’s way different from the calisthenics that the older guys would do. You’re kind of going back to that Rocky mentality where you’re doing pushups and sit-ups and punching the cow.”
“It’s hard to be stuck in limbo and to really not have an idea of a goal or maybe a date to set yourself up for being at your peak when the puck is dropped,” said Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal.
When not trying to stay in shape, there’s time for binge-watching — Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal both recommend the “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” Netflix documentary series — and keeping up with the team group text. For the Flyers, it was at first a group video chat, but that didn’t work out.
“We did a group FaceTime the other day and it didn’t go very well,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “Everybody just started screaming and couldn’t hear anybody. We’re just trying to keep the group chat going.”
It’s in those chats where players discuss the latest updates from the Players’ Association and debate various hypotheticals for finishing the season.
As the players wait to find out when they’ll playing hockey again, they’re doing their best to stay busy. Lee and his wife, Grace, had their first child earlier this month. P.K. Subban of the Devils is spending time in Los Angeles with fiancee Lindsey Vonn trying to stick to his routine as close as possible. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal has been helping with his daughter’s kindergarten homework and cleaning his floors “a lot.”
The players and their families aren’t used to them being home this much at this time of the year. It’s a time of waiting and remaining optimistic.
“It’s getting to a point where you start to feel now things aren’t right,” said Foligno. “We’re used to this time of year gearing up [for playoffs] and we’re sitting around being told it’s probably going to be a little longer. It’s hard. It’s a mental game right now, but we know it’s for the right reasons. So you hold on to that and seeing what’s going on around the world, it’s kind of kept everything in perspective for us all.”
Hockey Week in America continues Thursday with some notable Stanley Cup clinchers.
This series pitted the expansion Golden Knights in their first season facing the Capitals, who were trying to end their infamous championship drought. Behind a goal from Alex Ovechkin, and the Cup-clinching goal from Lars Eller, the Capitals overcame a third period deficit to beat the Golden Knights 4-3 to win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Ovechkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
You can watch the Ovechkin and the Capitals finally capturing the Cup and more Stanley Cup clinchers Thursday night on NBCSN beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
THURSDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Golden Knights (Game 5, 2018 Stanley Cup Final) – 9 p.m. ET
• Penguins vs. Red Wings (Game 7, 2009 Stanley Cup Final) – 11 p.m. ET
• Blackhawks vs. Flyers (Game 6, 2010 Stanley Cup Final) – 1 a.m. ET