It may not feel like Stanley Cup playoff hockey when NHL returns, but that's OK

It may not feel like Stanley Cup playoff hockey when NHL returns, but that's OK

The good news is that progress and momentum continue to build toward the NHL attempting to finish off the 2019-20 NHL season.

The latest development has the league talking about two hub cities where 12 teams apiece would compete in a postseason tournament to award a Stanley Cup champion.

Presumably one would be an East Coast Hub and one would be a West Coast Hub, and one would expect places like Las Vegas and Florida to be the lead candidates given all factors involved.

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The details need to be worked out on a 24-team tournament, of course, and how a round-robin mini-tournament for play-in teams would work while also warming up the higher seeds to get ready for the traditional Stanley Cup Playoff series.

It won’t be easy or uncomplicated.

But it’s encouraging news that there is so much optimism that everybody will see playoff hockey this summer, and it will keep growing as COVID-19 testing becomes more abundant, more accurate and more rapid in both administration and results.

One other undeniable truth? The NHL isn’t going to feel much like the NHL when it does resume.

“Whether we’re going to play some regular season games or we’re going to jump into some sort of a playoff format, it’s still unknown. I just prefer to play hockey. I’ll be honest with you,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara last week during a Bruins virtual town hall with season ticket holders. “Whether it’s jumping into the playoffs or playing some sort of games to get ready for the playoffs, you just need to go with the flow.”

If it’s good enough for Chara to go with the flow, it should be good enough for everybody else.

Some of that will be about the empty arenas where other sports leagues are tinkering with pumping in crowd noise or filling the stands either virtually, or by the odd sight of placing creepy mannequins in the stands to replace ticket-buying fans. There’s a perfectly legit question as to whether that would distract players more than totally empty seats would.  

It goes beyond the optics of fans being barred from NHL arenas, however.

Just look at what’s happening in Major League Baseball where a set of safety guidelines is being proposed for play to resume during the coronavirus outbreak. They go from no spitting and no high-fives all the way down to a strict “no fighting” ban that would result in stiff penalties levied against players who break the rules.

There was no mention of refraining from licking the faces of opponents, but that may already be self-explanatory at this point.

Just think about how that would impact playoff hockey, though.

Sure, everybody can live without hockey hugs after players score goals even if that might be one of the more difficult habits to break. But removing post-whistle scrums and subtracting the traditional nastiness that comes along with Stanley Cup Playoff hockey is going to make it feel like there’s a bunch of Lady Byng clones on ice playing against each other.

Vancouver Athletic writer Thomas Drance, who brings a bit of a different perspective given he worked PR for the Florida Panthers for a few seasons, outlines some of the more interesting challenges facing the return of the NHL. They range from small issues (a manager missing a game because he was quarantined after sneaking out for face cream and toothpaste) to larger issues (asymptomatic players testing positive), but it illustrates the amount of hurdle-clearing that will need to happen throughout any summer session where NHL games are played.

My question is whether this is going to feel like Stanley Cup playoff hockey at all given everything that will be changed or missing.

Probably not, at least at first. But it will be a return of the sport, which is the first massive step in any return to whatever normal is going to be once we come back online as a functioning society.

Clearly there isn’t much fighting in playoff hockey to begin with, so that won’t be a big change. And there will be old-time hockey people concerned that outlawing fighting in hockey now will be something that’s rolled over into a regular return of the NHL someday.

But there’s always been passion and nastiness, and even a little good, old-fashioned hatred between opponents over the course of a seven-game NHL playoff series. It may be impossible to manufacture that given all the constraints and controls that will be in place for the “new normal” of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But it’s also part of the lesson everybody needs to learn across the country, and across the entire world right now.

Things aren’t going to be “normal” or “the same” as they were before the coronavirus outbreak anytime soon, and perhaps not at all given how much COVID-19 has shaken the economy, our day-to-day lives and pretty much every facet of life. Instead it’s about everybody adapting and adjusting to what’s best for the whole of society, and it’s up to pro sports to help lead the way as they do in so many times of change and turmoil.

Perhaps people will more readily accept how different things will need to be when they see their favorite athletes setting the example of donning a mask or practicing social distancing while on the bench awaiting their next shift.

Maybe someday we’ll all get back to packed NHL arenas with players pushing, shoving and breaking out a can of nasty against each other with so much on the line during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For now, we should all accept the potential return of the NHL in any way, shape or form we can provided it’s healthy, safe and feasible for everybody involved.

It’s not going to look like anything we’ve ever seen before. But that’s okay because we’ll all need to be open-minded when it comes to change for the foreseeable future.

We might as well adopt that mentality for the NHL just like everything else with a legit shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs a couple of months from now.  

Steven Stamkos injury: Lightning star won't play vs. Bruins in round robin

Steven Stamkos injury: Lightning star won't play vs. Bruins in round robin

The Boston Bruins need a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday if they're going to earn a high playoff seed from the NHL's round robin, and luckily for the B's, the Bolts will be without their captain and best player.

Lightning center Steven Stamkos won't be in the lineup, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper told reporters Tuesday.

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Stamkos is recovering from a lower-leg injury suffered during July's Phase 2 team workouts. He also did not play in the Lightning's 3-2 shootout win against the Washington Capitals in their round robin opener on Monday.

The loss of Stamkos is a tough blow for the Lightning. He's one of the league's most talented offensive players, and he's also enjoyed plenty of success versus the Bruins. Stamkos has tallied 34 points (23 goals, 11 assists) in 41 career regular season games against the B's. The veteran center also has posted 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 12 career playoff matchups with the Bruins.

Injuries have been an issue for Stamkos throughout the 2019-20 campaign. He missed 25 games during the regular season, but still managed to score 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists).

The Bruins lost their first round robin game 4-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers last Sunday. After playing the Lightning, the B's will conclude their round robin schedule Sunday against the Washington Capitals. The order of the round robin standings will determine these four teams' seeds for the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Symbolic kneeling shows Tyler Seguin has grown up since his Bruins days

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Symbolic kneeling shows Tyler Seguin has grown up since his Bruins days

When Tyler Seguin was traded away from the Bruins a little more than seven years ago, the 21-year-old was looked at as a stunningly talented young hockey player desperately in need of growing up a bit.

Seguin became an All-Star forward and a Stanley Cup champ in his three seasons in Boston and it seemed like he was on the verge of a partnership with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in what could have been a Perfection Line in their own right.

But it wasn’t mean to be for Seguin and it was determined a change of scenery was required for him if he was ever going to reach his vast potential. And the Bruins couldn’t wait for that development time to happen immediately coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance with lofty visions of return trips fresh in their minds.

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The Bruins clearly made a mistake settling for the package from Dallas instead of holding out for first-round picks and Grade-A prospects when dealing away their 21-year-old winger on the verge of superstardom.  

As it turns out, the Bruins would dip out of the playoffs within the next few seasons while aging and slowing down, and they wouldn’t replace Seguin’s game-breaking abilities until right winger David Pastrnak ascended a couple of seasons ago. Seguin went on to mature and put up numbers with the Stars over the last seven years, but it was impossible from afar to tell just how much he had matured into a true professional on and off the ice.

In the last few months, though, Seguin has shown that he’s grown and matured as a human being quite a bit in those seven years.

It all started in the days following the pause to the 2019-20 NHL regular season when the Bruins hosted a team-wide Zoom reunion of the 2011 Stanley Cup team on YouTube to watch a replay of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final vs. the Canucks in Vancouver. It wasn’t exactly an amicable divorce between the Bruins and Seguin, so it showed some level of emotional maturity for the Stars winger to sit on the Zoom call and reminisce with his former teammates.

But it’s been the last few months that have really put on display how much Seguin has evolved as a player and a person on and off the ice.

Seguin was one of the more involved NHL players in the days following the George Floyd murder when he attended Black Lives Matter protests in Dallas and made certain to use his large social media platform to call for social change.

It was his attendance at the BLM protests in Dallas that left an impression with Vegas Golden Knights tough guy Ryan Reaves, who intended to take a knee prior to Monday night’s round robin game between Vegas and Dallas.

Reaves approached Seguin during warm-ups prior to Monday night’s game and let him know what he intended to do, and asked Seguin if he wanted to join him in taking a knee. Seguin agreed to kneel, informed his Stars teammates prior to puck drop and had Stars teammate Jason Dickinson join Reaves and Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner as well in kneeling during both the U.S. and Canadian anthems.

It was a noteworthy NHL moment after Minnesota Wild D-man Matthew Dumba had spoken eloquently and taken a knee just a couple of days prior, and it was a defining moment for Seguin as a player showing what he’s made of as a human being. Seguin wanted to make sure that Reaves — and any other minority players in the NHL — knew that they had his full support, and that kind of thing is powerfully meaningful and influential when it comes from star players across the NHL.

“It’s a big issue that needs to be addressed,” said Seguin following the game. “It’s something that we [Seguin and Dickinson] clearly both believe in. I think tonight was a statement from us with what our actions were. I don’t know if we’re going to do that every night. If there are other guys on other teams or other black players that are doing something, we’ll always give our support. That was our statement tonight.”

It was a statement that many — including Bruins players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara — have made in the last few months while putting unmistakable words and actions together to educate themselves about the systemic issues in America while showing support for equal treatment and social justice.

None of it was wrapped up in exasperating politics or some false narrative that anybody taking a knee was disrespecting the flag, the police or the U.S. armed forces. Instead, it was the right of free citizens to peacefully protest racism, social injustices and system inequality that’s gone on in the United States for far too long.

In the same breath, it was also an impressive example of a 28-year-old Seguin who's matured into a force for good, and somebody who learned lessons from his carefree, partying days in Boston when success came a little too easily and quickly than it probably should have.