Bruins

NHL looking at sites like North Dakota, New Hampshire for summer playoffs

NHL looking at sites like North Dakota, New Hampshire for summer playoffs

The NHL may be forced into some creative solutions if they want to cap off the suspended 2019-20 regular season with Stanley Cup Playoffs this summer, and those kinds of plans-on-the-fly are being assembled by the league on a daily basis.

One of the more interesting plans is to hold the playoff games at designated neutral locations across the U.S. and have multiple games played Olympics-style in those empty arenas. According to reports, Grand Forks, North Dakota and Manchester, New Hampshire are a pair of sites that have been mentioned as possibilities this summer if the NHL can push for playoff games made for television without any fans in the stands.

It’s all theoretical in nature right now, of course, and could change on a daily basis as with everything else dependent on how things play out from an all-important health standpoint.

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Both North Dakota and Manchester are regular hosts in the NCAA hockey tournament, so they are at least accustomed to host larger multiple-game tournaments. That's part of what makes them ideal settings along with being lower-populated areas away from the coronavirus hot spots in the country.

There are plenty of hurdles to jump over, obviously.

All players, officials and coaches would need to be tested prior to the games being played to make certain the virus couldn’t spread and would need to essentially be quarantined for months while the playoffs roll out in these neutral sites. There is motivation to get this done, however, for multiple reasons.

The NHL obviously wants a playoff conclusion to the current season that could be ideally played out over the summer, and then plans could be made for something close to a full 2020-21 NHL regular season perhaps beginning in November.

Gary Bettman and the rest of North America’s sports commissioners and organizers sat in on a conference call with President Donald Trump over the weekend where the message seemed to be that the White House would like sports back sooner rather than later as the country aspires to get back to normalcy.

“[The sports leagues] want to get back," said Trump during a press briefing later on Saturday. "They've got to get back. They can't do this. Their sports weren't designed for it. The whole concept of our nation wasn't designed for it. We have to get back. We want to get back soon."

All that being said, the return of any sports is not going to happen unless there is massive improvement over the next month as social distancing and self-quarantining are utilized nationally to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported last weekend that the NBA is also considering its usual summer home of Las Vegas as a centralized setting for their potential playoffs this summer as well.

The good news is that there are still very vibrant, creative plans for playoff hockey this summer, so the hope is still very much alive that we’ll see NHL players doing their thing a few months from now.

Zdeno Chara 'grateful for the opportunity' to play, not focused on NHL playoff format fairness

Zdeno Chara 'grateful for the opportunity' to play, not focused on NHL playoff format fairness

In the aftermath of this week’s NHL announcement about the 24-team playoff format, there has been plenty of talk about fairness, asterisks and whether this plan will even come to fruition this summer as NHL players begin working to get back into playing shape.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara could have complained about the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins being forced into protecting their top seed during a round-robin tournament despite pretty much winning it fair and square during the regular season with a month left.

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Chara could have openly wondered about the safeness of an NHL return or talked extensively about whether the Cup champs will be considered regular champions despite so many oddities with this year’s proposed postseason.

Instead, the wise 43-year-old Chara simply showed gratitude that the NHL players might be able to get back to work, and perhaps in doing so can restore some sense of quasi-normalcy to sports fans eager to see games resume.

“The Players' Association with the player reps worked extremely hard to get to this point and come up with something that will be hopefully entertaining and exciting. I think the fans will enjoy it for sure. It’s never a perfect scenario. It’s not going to be set in stone like it would be after an 82-game regular season,” said Chara while speaking with B’s reporters on Zoom call on Thursday morning.

“It’s not going to be perfect. Anytime you’re going to have an unexpected kind of stoppage with teams at different peaks in their season, you had to come up with some sort of solution. What we see is probably the best [solution]. It’s one of those things where you can’t blame anyone or feel that it’s unfair.

For us, we have to be grateful for the opportunity we’re getting. When you look at the real-life perspective at what other people’s families and businesses are going through, we’re getting the chance to basically start back up where we ended the season. A lot of people aren’t getting that same chance. A lot of people lost financial support and businesses went down, and they will never get the same opportunities. We have to be grateful for the opportunity and take it as a huge motivation [and] excitement. [We need] to be grateful and embrace it.

As with most players focused on winning, Chara knows the Bruins will need to overcome all obstacles if they hope to lift the Stanley Cup, and a newfangled playoff format that was a little unfair to them is nothing compared to what’s happening in the world.

Chara is going to be a slam dunk Hall of Fame defenseman when he eventually retires from the Bruins even if that’s probably at least a couple of seasons from now.

But the 6-foot-9 D-man also showed in his answer why he’s a Hall of Fame person with the way he’s still got everything in proper perspective even as fans get a little excited about progress being made toward a return for the NHL season.

NHL announces Bruins have won these three end-of-season awards

NHL announces Bruins have won these three end-of-season awards

The NHL announced on Tuesday the 2019-20 regular season was finished, and as a result, it became time to announce the winners of some end-of-the-year awards.

Some of the awards, including the Hart Trophy for the league's most valuable player, still need to be voted on. Most of them are voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The awards based on stats, however, already have been determined.

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Three of the awards already determined will go to the Boston Bruins. The league officially announced all such awards with a press release Thursday.

Here's a quick recap of the awards won by the Bruins.

Presidents' Trophy
The team that finishes the regular season with the best record wins this award. This is the third time Boston has won the Presidents' Trophy since it was introduced ahead of the 1985-86 season. The B's also have won it in 1990 and 2014. The team that's won this trophy usually fails to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, only nine of the previous 33 Presidents' Trophy winners went on to win the Stanley Cup that same year. However, the last time it  happened was in 2013 when the Chicago Blackhawks won both in a shortened season, so maybe there's hope for the Bruins in 2020!

William M. Jennings Trophy
The Bruins had the best goalie duo in the league with starter Tuukka Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak. Boston finished the season allowing the fewest goals allowed, which means the team's goaltenders have won the William M. Jennings Trophy. Rask led the league with a 2.12 goals against average and 85 goals allowed in 41 appearances, and Halak ranked sixth with a 2.39 GAA and 73 goals allowed in 31 games played. This is the third time (1989-90 and 2008-09 previously) the Bruins have won this award since it was introduced in 1981-82. Rask has won the award for the first time, while Halak now has claimed it twice. Halak shared it with Brian Elliott when they played for the St. Louis Blues durng the 2011-12 campaign.

Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy
The league's leading goal scorer(s) win the award named after Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice Richard. Bruins winger David Pastrnak and Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin both scored 48 goals and will share the trophy. Pastrnak is the first B's player to lead the league in goals since Phil Esposito, who did it in six straight seasons from 1969-70 through 1974-75. Pastrnak fell just shy of becoming Boston's first 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely in 1993-94, but he should have plenty more chances to hit that milestone in the near future. 

Other awards?
It's quite possible the Bruins could take home other end-of-the-season awards. Pastrnak has a case to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy, but it's hard to envision him winning the award over Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon or Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl. Bruins center Patrice Bergeron should be a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which he's already won four times. Rask also is the favorite to win the second Vezina Trophy of his career.

Of course, the real prize for the Bruins is the Stanley Cup. They came so close to winning it last year, and after another dominant regular season, the Bruins are among the favorites to hoist the best trophy in sports later in 2020.