While Bruins players thought at one point they might have already been skating in small groups by this week, that moment will wait for at least another couple of weeks as Massachusetts goes through the phases of re-opening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the NHL remains on target for a potential return in July and August that’s been building since the league put the regular season on pause in early March, and the plan is beginning to take focus.
Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App
As early as this week, the NHL and NHLPA could approve a 24-team playoff that would include play-in games for the bottom playoff bubble teams, and a warm-up tournament for the higher seeds to get ready for a more conventional playoff to follow once they get down to 16 teams.
It would give new potential playoff life to teams like the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers that might have thought their season was over and would set up some interesting matchups.
Based on the 12 Eastern Conference teams being ranked by points percentage, the top-seeded Bruins would play the winner of a Maple Leafs/Blue Jackets play-in series once the East was pared down to eight playoff teams.
Here’s how the Eastern Conference seeding would look:
|1. Boston Bruins||7. New York Islanders|
|2. Tampa Bay Lightning||8. Toronto Maple Leafs|
|3. Washington Capitals||9. Columbus Blue Jackets|
|4. Philadelphia Flyers||10. Florida Panthers|
|5. Pittsburgh Penguins||11. New York Rangers|
|6. Carolina Hurricanes||12. Montreal Canadiens|
The Bruins defeated both of those teams last season on the way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and would clearly be the heavy favorites against either the Maple Leafs or the Blue Jackets.
All that being said, Bruce Cassidy would rather have the normal four-round Stanley Cup playoff format if he had his way with how things would proceed.
“From our position, I’d rather it be just 16 [teams] with four rounds of seven games and let’s go. That’s the integrity of the playoffs and it’s always been that way. I understand the players' perspective of wanting to get some games in because it gets ramped up in a hurry,” Cassidy said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s "Toucher and Rich Show" on Wednesday morning. “You understand it’s no-holds barred once you get to the playoffs. That’s tough on the players. Other years they’d be allowed to work out and skate. Most guys are doing nothing. The odd guy in Sweden or in Europe might be skating, so they do need time to ramp it up health-wise.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be unfair to somebody and that’s just the way it is. If you go with just 16 teams, then what about the last one or two teams on the bubble that don’t make it. Hopefully we got to the 16 teams the right way and it doesn’t hurt us.
That’s where I’m coming from that we don’t get kind of screwed in this process. Because we shouldn’t be. We should be rewarded for our regular season. I don’t think any scenario is going to be perfectly fair and I understand that. I’m just hopeful we get a chance to play, to be honest with you. Our guys know what’s at stake, so they will be ready no matter what the format will be.
The NHL is leaning toward a pair of Hub cities to host the Western and Eastern Conference playoff series with 12 teams in each of two designated NHL locales. Hockey sources have pinned Las Vegas as the top NHL choice for the Western Conference Hub city, but it remains unknown as to where the Eastern Conference Hub city would be located.
Florida would seem to be an ideal location based on the way the state has already opened up to pro sports leagues, but there close to 10 NHL locations that the league is looking at before settling on their two hub locations for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.