Don't you dare put an asterisk on Stanley Cup winner this season

Don't you dare put an asterisk on Stanley Cup winner this season

There are amazingly some hockey fans grousing about the 24-team NHL playoff tournament that’s expected to be approved by the league and the NHLPA this week.

Some are unhappy at the overwhelming number of teams that will qualify and others are poo-pooing the sheer notion of playoff hockey in the summertime.

It’s all becoming a requirement due to the COVID-19 outbreak across North America as the NHL needs to thread the needle in order to make playoff hockey happen at all.

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There has been far-too-idle chatter that the 2020 Stanley Cup champion will end up having a bothersome asterisk attached to its title because of all the mitigating circumstances. Well, a Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champ thinks that’s a bunch of hockey hogwash. And so does this humble hockey writer.

2011 B’s Stanley Cup champ Mark Recchi is currently a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins coaching staff, so he’ll be part of the proposed play-in round against the Montreal Canadiens once things get going again NHL-wise. And Rex looks at this entire situation as something that will make this summer’s Stanley Cup even more of a challenge than perhaps any that’s been won before in the history of the league.

It will instead be something to tell your grandkids about.

“We’ll view it as unique. You can take it one of two ways. You can put an asterisk beside it and say that it shouldn’t have been done. Or you can just say, ‘You know what? We’re Stanley Cup champs and you were playing for it.’ It’s going to be interesting at first,” said Recchi in a Zoom call with NBC Sports Boston this week. “But at the end of the day when it comes down to it and you’re playing for the Stanley Cup, it’s going to be that same intensity.

We’re making the best of a situation that nobody had any idea was coming. So you make the best of it. I think it’s a unique situation and I think it would be pretty fun to have that asterisk. You can say to your grandkids, ‘This is what happened. It was a pandemic, and this is what we had to do. And we went out and we found a way to be the best team in the world.' 

Honestly, there might never be a more challenging thing facing Stanley Cup hopefuls in the history of the NHL.

And we’re talking about a league that skipped an entire season due to a labor dispute and crammed 48 games into the 2013 season due to a lockout. This time around, it’s a deadly serious global pandemic that’s put a pause on the NHL regular season since the second week of March and has kept most players from even skating at all for the last 75 days or so.

It’s been handled with the appropriate care and concern for public safety as the players prepare to start skating next month.

The NHL will eliminate seven teams right off the bat that had no business being near the playoffs, and all 24 of the teams involved could have their best players forced into a two-week quarantine at the drop of a hat.

NHL players will be traveling to hub cities to play the games and be potentially separated from their families for weeks or months at a time while they go through the postseason format. And they'll be expected to live in some form of isolation while all of this is going on.

That doesn’t even take into account playing in empty arenas, rules changes due to ongoing social distancing requirements and anything else unforeseen that might come into play.  

All NHL players, coaches and officials will be putting their own health at risk to provide sport and entertainment for a world full of people craving anything resembling normalcy. And they will be doing it while readily bestowing the mantle of hero to the frontline workers across the globe who are keep things moving forward for the rest of us every day.

None of us might ever again face the kind of daunting challenge we’ve seen over the last few months and what we’ll face ahead of us as we get on with the business of our “new normal” day-to-day lives.

“We’re all in the same boat together,” said Recchi. “So hopefully you go in, do well and you keep moving forward.”

So, go ahead and get that weak “asterisk” junk out of here when discussing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It might feel completely different and it’s certainly something we never could have imagined even four or five months ago prior to the world changing on us thanks to COVID-19.

But everybody will need to dole out full credit to the team that’s able to show the discipline, maturity, toughness and sheer desire to win a Cup this summer when so many factors will be working against them.

This season’s Stanley Cup champ will be a hockey club that deserves a stick tap and full credit rather than some weak, old asterisk in the record books.

Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

File photo

Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

The Boston Bruins leadership group has shown they are about more than simple lip service and social media posts when it comes to what’s been going on in this country over the last few weeks.

Patrice Bergeron made a $50,000 donation to a pair of worthy causes this week in the Boston branch of the NAACP and Centre Multiethnique de Quebec while releasing a lengthy, passionate statement through the Bruins.

B's captain Zdeno Chara was spotted in all his 6-foot-9 glory walking in Boston on Friday afternoon during one of the protests through the city streets while sporting a Bruins mask in the crowd.

None of this is a surprise as both the 43-year-old Chara and the 33-year-old Bergeron have fostered a welcoming, friendly environment in the Bruins dressing over the years. The Bruins veterans don’t even really use the word “rookie” because Chara has always believed that it creates unnecessary separation between younger and older teammates that shouldn’t exist in a team setting.

Bergeron is partially credited with helping pull a black teammate named Gemel Smith out of a mental funk that he was mired in during his time with the Bruins. Bergeron urged Smith to talk to somebody professionally when he sensed that something wasn’t quite right with his new teammate and it helped Smith turn things around personally and professionally when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

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Smith ended up playing just three games with the Bruins last season after being picked up on waivers, but even in that brief time Bergeron had managed to reach out and make a connection with the player that made a lasting impact. That’s exactly the kind of healthy, welcoming dressing room that’s made the Bruins a success over the years.

There isn’t a long history of black players with the Bruins in recent years as Smith, Jarome Iginla and Malcolm Subban are the only black NHLers to suit up with Boston over the last decade. So there haven't been a great deal of opportunities for Bergeron, Chara and the rest of the B’s leadership core to show just much they embrace the diversity and equal treatment for all that so many around the NHL are voicing in the days since George Floyd was horrifically killed by Minneapolis police officers.

But give full credit to both Bergeron and Chara for stepping up this week, representing the Bruins in a manner they would be proud of and showing that it’s about actions as much as -- if not more than -- words when it comes to promoting equal treatment for all, and a better tomorrow for people of all races and backgrounds.

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

The NHL has their 24-team postseason format and they’ve even drilled down on some of the specifics this week.

We still don’t know exactly when the Stanley Cup postseason can start or when NHL training camps would be going full speed ahead. Also, all of the matchups beyond the “qualifying round” are still very much in the air.

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Clearly there is still plenty we don’t know about the Stanley Cup Playoffs once the NHL presses the play button in the next few months.

But we do know enough about the proposed postseason to know who will benefit, and who will be getting the short end of the stick. So that’s enough to put together the always popular winners and losers list when it comes to the new NHL postseason format. 

Click here for the gallery.