Bruins

When should 2020 NHL Draft happen? Mark Recchi gives honest take

When should 2020 NHL Draft happen? Mark Recchi gives honest take

Just a few weeks ago it seemed that the 2020 NHL Draft was on the fast track to taking place in June as a way to fill the void left by the absence of games with the NHL regular season on pause. The draft was originally supposed to take place during a late June weekend in Montreal, but there was even talk of moving it up to early June after the NFL Draft went off so successfully in April.

It wasn’t going to be without complications, of course, as the NHL was going to need to figure out a draft order without a finalized regular season, and executing trades involving anything but draft picks would have been impossible prior to the league executing the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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An NHL Board of Governors meeting in early May slowed the momentum toward holding the draft ahead of the season resumption, but it remains up in the air as to when exactly the 2020 NHL Draft will take place.

Mark Recchi is a Hall-of-Fame hockey player and three-time Stanley Cup champ, somebody that’s worked in player development for the Pittsburgh Penguins and a current assistant coach with the Pens as well. Needless to say, Recchi has plenty of experience in all areas of NHL operations and thinks that holding the draft would be a difficult proposition given how much trade talk goes on around the time of the actual draft weekend.

Certainly there wouldn’t be anything much more awkward than trade rumors surrounding NHL players just as they’re readying for an unprecedented 24-team playoff format while playing hockey through a global pandemic.

“They’ve got to do what’s best. Personally, I thought it was going to be tough to have the draft in June. You could still make deals. But the unfortunate part would be if a deal was made while we’re still playing and then the deal gets out [into the public]. You can make a deal and say ‘Hey, we can stuff it in a drawer until we’re done here.’ But that always seems to find a way to get out,” said Recchi. “That’s never a good thing to happen. You’re in the middle of a playoff series and then the rumors come up that [a player] has been traded to wherever for a first-rounder coming up.  

“Say with Pittsburgh they wanted to make a trade for a pick with a player that deal could be done, but I think it’s a pretty risky way to go. There is too much there that could happen to hurt players in the long run.”

Perhaps there’s a way to find a middle road, like the NHL prohibiting all trades at the draft aside from anything but draft picks. But the sentiment across the NHL was that there was very little team support for holding the draft in June, and it was instead something being pushed hardest by the league and league rights holders looking for quality content.

The NHL Draft still may happen as the perfect event television that could bridge the hockey content gap until the NHL playoffs presumably re-start during the month of July. But it’s not something that has the unbridled support of a hockey community used to sticking to the routines that have already been set in the NHL world.

Let's not shed tears for the Bruins getting 'screwed' by NHL playoff format

Let's not shed tears for the Bruins getting 'screwed' by NHL playoff format

It seems like everyone around Boston had the same two thoughts when Gary Bettman announced a return-to-play plan that stated the top four teams in each division would play a round robin to determine their seeding:

1. The Bruins are getting screwed here ...

2. ... but whatever. Just give me sports.

Hard agree on the second one. I watched Phil Mickelson babysit Tom Brady's incompetent ass on the golf course all day Sunday. I'll take anything.

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I can't really get too worked up about No. 1, though. Yes, the Bruins had a lead of six-to-eight points for the Presidents' Trophy with 12 games to play, so while this is of course a disadvantage, I can't feel that badly for them.

For starters, they can still get the No. 1 seed by finishing with at least a tie for the best record during the round robin against Tompa Bay, Washington and Philly.

Here's the other reason: The Bruins are not allowed to complain about playoff logistics ever again after last year.

Do we not remember all that was handed to them last postseason? They avoided the best team in the second round thanks to the Blue Jackets giving the Lightning one drop of adversity. Then, they got to face a team that didn't know its own goaltending situation in the Eastern Conference finals before getting the freaking Blues in the Cup Final.

That they lost was of course an upset/choke/whatever you want to call it, but that they got there? That seemed like a mere formality with the breaks they got.

So while I'm pulling for the Bruins to atone for last postseason, we shouldn't exactly be shedding tears. The road was never going to be as easy as they just had it. It was going to be harder this time no matter what. No matter how they fare in the round robin, they're going to face stiffer competition than they did a year ago, because even with this whacky layoff, no one can possibly expect top teams to fall off immediately the way they did last postseason.

Remember, three of the four first-round matchups in the West last year were upsets, meaning the No. 1, 3 and 4 point-getters in the West were also bounced in the first round. By the time the Bruins got past the Leafs in the first round, they had home ice and lesser opponents the rest of the way.

But back to this year and the now. The Bruins are 3-3-4 combined this season against Tompa, Washington and Philly, netting out to an even 10 points in 10 games. That's the worst record any of these four teams has against the other three. The Lightning are 4-2-2 (1.25 points a game), the Flyers are 5-3-1 (1.22 points a game) and the Capitals are 6-4-0 (1.2 points a game).

So the round robin for seeding will be an extra test that I don't think anyone wanted for the Bruins, but one we'll tolerate because we want hockey back.

And really, it's probably not like anyone thinks they're going to get the No. 4 seed and lose in the following round. It's really just an additional variable that's feared because the Stanley Cup playoffs are already the ultimate anything-can-happen tournament.

But I'll take it. Hockey's trying to come back. We'll all take that. 

Is new format unfair to Bruins? Sure, but hockey is one step closer to returning

Is new format unfair to Bruins? Sure, but hockey is one step closer to returning

The encouraging news is the headline here. Let’s make no mistake about it. The NHL became the first major professional sports league to announce an official format to return to play in North America from the COVID-19 crisis with a 24-team tournament.

The timetable to start the Stanley Cup playoffs is to be determined and they haven’t even decided on the location of any hub cities at this point, so we’re still a long way off from playing any playoff games at all. The hope is that the players will be skating on their own at NHL facilities next month and that training camps will be opened sometime after July 1.

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That is a major step forward in the right direction and an encouraging sign that the NHL will be back this summer. All of that is great news for hockey fans, of course, and an optimistic development when it comes to the subject of returning to some kind of quasi-normalcy at some point over the next handful of months.

“Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans are telling us in overwhelming numbers they want us to complete the season if it all possible. Our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on NBC Sports Network while announcing the return to play format. “I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount. While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so.”

The NHL hopes to test players on a daily basis by the time they get back to playing actual games this summer, and temperature checks, isolation from others away from the rink and proper social distancing sound like they will become the norm for everybody involved with putting on the games. 

Bettman went on to say that NHL training camps wouldn’t open prior to July 1 and that means any playoff games wouldn’t begin until late July/early August at the earliest with a postseason that could push into September. So we’ll have a long time to discuss and dissect everything about this proposed return to play for the NHL, and how it’s potentially going to impact the Boston Bruins.

Certainly, the Bruins could complain about being screwed by the new format as they should have been the no-doubt No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They ended the season as the only NHL team with 100 points and they were a lock to win the President’s Trophy while earning home ice during their entire postseason run.

Now the Bruins will be the top Eastern seed at the start of the 24-team tournament, but that could change based on the round-robin warm-up tournament between the B’s, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers while the play-in games are being played. If they theoretically dropped all three games against the other top seeds, then they would drop all the way to the fourth seed and would presumably be relegated to a first round match-up against a loaded, rested Pittsburgh Penguins club.

It would have been defensible if the Bruins had even voted against this format when the NHLPA reps voted on it last week, but instead they accepted it rather than bellyaching like the crybaby Carolina Hurricanes.

The circumstances are quite a turnaround for a Bruins team that was looking at a first round match-up against the No. 8 seed if things had proceeded normally through the end of the regular season. Bettman said it was an inevitable adjustment as the NHL didn’t want to have the top teams sitting around without knocking any rust off prior to engaging in high-intensity playoff games.

“The theory was, and this was something we had discussed with the players, that they didn’t want to have to play a team that came out of the qualifying series [while being] cold,” said Bettman, who indicated the round-robin games would be played with the regular season format and wins/losses would convert to points similar to pool play in the Olympics. “They wanted some real competition. This was our way to do it. This was from the Return to Play Committee that had five players on it, and this made sense to give them a bye, not put them at substantial risk and give them some real competition.”

Don’t expect to hear the Bruins complain about the format, however.

They got every break imaginable last season when each of the No. 1 seeds lost in the first round of the playoffs, had home ice in every round and still ended up losing in Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues last spring. The Bruins know as well as anybody that to hoist the Stanley Cup a hockey team needs to win no matter what format is thrown at them and no matter what opponents they end up facing along the way.

And that’s all that really matters. Rather than complaining about the imperfections or unfairness of a format invented because of the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, the prevailing thought of today should be that hockey took one step closer to happening.