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.