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There’s plenty to be thankful for in hockey in 2020

hockey thankful

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 29: Gritty, the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers dressed as a Thanksgiving Turkey entertains the crowd during the second period intermission against the Detroit Red Wings on November 29, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and there is no hockey to enjoy tonight. That leaves plenty of time for turkey, sides and lots and lots of dessert.

With it being a day to give thanks, some of the NHL on NBC Sports team wanted to share what we’re thankful for in 2020.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content:

Steven Stamkos. It took the Lightning captain a long time to win his first Stanley Cup. Make no mistake – this was not Ray Bourque circa 2001 – but the way Stamkos returned from injury (and as we learned later, personal tragedy) to lift his team in Game 3 of the Cup Final was inspirational and reminded us all of how committed hockey players are to this sport and their teammates.

NHL players at the Olympics...soon. Kudos to the NHL and NHLPA for finding a way to work an Olympics return into the recent CBA extension. The men’s hockey tournament is normally a highlight of the Games, but the 2018 version sans NHLers was sorely lacking. Not only will the on-ice product be vastly improved, but the game benefits when its best players can get exposure to a massive audience on the world stage. Eichel, Kane, and Matthews for the Americans. Crosby, McDavid, and MacKinnon for Canada. Panarin, Ovechkin, and Kucherov for Team Russia. Is it 2022 yet?

The Seattle Kraken. The league’s 32nd team is still a year away (well, slightly less...hopefully) from playing real hockey, but that first game can’t come soon enough. From the commitment to diversity across the organization, to the innovative arena design, to the meticulous mascot-selection process, the Kraken have done an outstanding job of creating a model franchise from scratch. Now all they need is a coach and some players.

Virus Outbreak Older Coaches Hockey

In this photo provided by the Dallas Stars NHL hockey team, interim head coach Rick Bowness watches practice in Frisco, Texas, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Bowness, 65, coached from behind the bench the first couple of days of Dallas Stars training camp before lacing up his skates and getting on the ice. Montreal’s 60-year-old Claude Julien, Edmonton’s 58-year-old Dave Tippett and others are confident in the NHL’s protocols as older, more at-risk people during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff Toates/Dallas Stars via AP)


James O’Brien, NHL writer: Look, this is the most obvious answer, but I can’t ignore the elephant/oversized turkey in the room. At least it’s one we don’t want to ignore, really: the NHL actually did it. When I take a step back, handing out the 2020 Stanley Cup remains mind-blowing. Especially since, instead of abbreviating the postseason, boiling down 24 teams to the typical 16 basically made it a five-round tournament, rather than a four-round one. (You know, depending upon how the NHL does or does not qualify this or that as “playoffs.” Not thankful for the needlessly complex ways that the NHL labels things, though.)

But maybe just as obvious, yet even more importantly, the NHL pulled off this ambitious playoff bubble without a single reported COVID-19 infection. That almost feels like a miracle.

(Here’s hoping that the 2021 thank yous include “Being thankful that pulling that off didn’t make the NHL too bold for the 2020-21 season.”) One step at a time, though.

If all of that is too broad: I’m also thankful that the hockey was really good, and a truly great Lightning team won it all. No fretting about asterisks, in my opinion.

Considering the circumstances, hockey fans and observers should be pretty grateful. Even if we don’t want a repeat of life as a whole from 2020 in 2021.

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers - Game One

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - AUGUST 01: Malcolm Subban #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers place their hands on Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild during the national anthem of the United States before Game One of the Western Conference Qualification Round between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place on August 01, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I have to agree with the guys that I am thankful for the NHL completing the 2019-20 playoffs, even though it started in August and finally ended at the end of September. I remember when the full force of the pandemic hit me in March. It was when the city of San Jose was talking about not having any one in the stands due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. I was thinking that it was an awfully big step to be taking when not that many people were sick yet but in hindsight...well you know. I like the fact that the NHL took its time deciding what to do and then changed from Las Vegas being a bubble city to Toronto and Edmonton ending up as the cities to play in. The NHL and the players did a fabulous job staying in the bubble and not having one case of the coronavirus once the bubble took effect. Kudos to all who were instrumental in the NHL awarding the Stanley Cup and everyone staying safe.

The NHL and the NHLPA have to be applauded for putting together a new CBA, well before the September 15, 2022 deadline and adding an extra four years to their labor peace. While things are a bit tense at this time, the work of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have to be commended as both sides would have had plenty to lose if they went on strike (or had a lockout) once again. They did what was best for hockey and it eventually should work out great for the fans.

I am also thankful for players like Mathew Dumba, Evander Kane and all the others (Akim Aliu, Wayne Simmonds, Trevor Daley, Chris Stewart and Joel Ward) who are so vital in the Hockey Diversity Alliance. It is so important that we eliminate racism and intolerance in hockey and the NHL could not have better leadership than having these seven players and former players to lead the way.

nhl season

Getty Images

Getty Images

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: It was a nice surprise to see the NHL and NHLPA work together and complete the 2019-20 season without a hitch. I doubted they’d finish the postseason, but we got a great playoffs and plenty of memories like, as Jake mentioned, Steven Stamkos and his famous goal.

I’m also thankful that we were able to see Oskar Lindblom make his return to the ice after battling Ewing sarcoma.

Speaking of returns from cancer, Charlie Capalbo back on the ice after his own battle was inspiring.

NHL All-Star Weekend was its usual brand of fun, and it was great to see 2019 Stanley Cup playoff MVP Laila Anderson introduce the Blues All-Stars in emphatic fashion.

Finally, thank you to Ryan Getzlaf and his chicken coop for giving us something to smile about shortly after the NHL took its pause in March.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer:

The obvious answer here is that the NHL successfully pulled off the bubble to allow us to complete the 2019-20 season. It seemed like a daunting challenge at the beginning -- and maybe it was! -- but they still managed to successfully pull it off far better than anyone could have expected.

Along with that, am thankful that the NHL and NHLPA were able to come to terms on a new CBA far ahead of schedule. There are still some things to work out to get this next season underway, but I am optimistic that can get worked out. The bottom line is, they managed to get the big deal done. That was a pleasant surprise.

Am thankful that the Tampa Bay Lightning finally had everything go their way at the same time in the playoffs so we can stop wondering what the NHL’s most successful team over the past six years is doing wrong. Now we can tip our collective caps to them and recognize them for what they are. An amazing team and franchise that no longer has that “yeah, but...” following them around.