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Ted Leonsis believes NHL will try to finish regular season, but what will that look like?

Ted Leonsis believes NHL will try to finish regular season, but what will that look like?

With speculation swirling that the NHL is finalizing a format for the resumption of the 2019-20 season, Monumental Sports and Entertainment owner Ted Leonsis added his voice to the growing sense of optimism around the league. Leonsis appeared on CNN's "The Situations Room" on Sunday to discuss the potential return of all three of Monumental Sports' professional teams -- the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics -- and was confident that we will see all three play at some point again in 2020.

"I believe all three teams will play," Leonsis said. "We will let the NBA and NHL try to finish some or all of the regular season then go in the playoffs, we just won't be doing it with fans."

It was essentially a foregone conclusion at this point that if the 2019-20 season were to resume, it would be without fans so Leonsis' statement here is no surprise. Of more significance is the fact the NHL may still try to have regular-season games. Just what that may look like raises several questions.

It is certainly understandable why the players of playoff teams would want games before heading into the playoffs. It will give them a chance to get back into game shape and into a rhythm. While the coronavirus has caused several professional leagues to shutdown, the impact is perhaps more significant for hockey as players are not able to get onto the ice and skate. That is something that is very hard to replicate away from the ice. While every player is in the same boat in terms of a lack of ice time, the trepidation a player would feel from going from no hockey to playoff hockey is certainly understandable.

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Playing out the remainder of the regular season would also allow for the NHL to determine final regular-season standings to put towards the draft lottery, one of the complications the league faced when it suggested an early June draft.

But what's the benefit for teams outside of the playoffs to play out the season?

While the NHL appears set to expand the playoff field this season to include teams whose playoff hunt was cut short by the pandemic, there seems little incentive for teams outside of the playoffs to return to play meaningless games.

The Detroit Red Wings were so awful this season that they were already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before the league paused its season. Is it realistic to expect those players to return from their homes after a two-month pause, go through a training camp, be isolated in a centralized location away from their families just to play completely and utterly meaningless games? Who does that benefit? The teams aren't getting any gate money since the games would be played without fans and at neutral locations and there is zero incentive for the players. Sure, every year teams who are not going to make the playoffs are expected to finish out the remainder of their 82-game schedule, but not in the middle of a pandemic, not isolated away from their families and not after a pause in the season of several months.

So what exactly will a regular-season look like? Could it be limited to just the teams that make the cut for the playoffs according to whatever format the league chooses? Could they bring back more teams than the playoff format allows and have a playoff race? Will the league for the cellar-dwellers to play anyway in the name of draft lottery seedings?

As with everything with this coronavirus, every step the NHL takes towards clarity brings with it more questions. Hopefully soon we finally have some answers.

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Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Who will the Caps play in their first playoff series? The round robin, explained.

Before the season pause, the Caps were in danger of falling down the standings. Now they could claim the top spot in the east.
 
When the NHL paused its season on March 12, the Capitals held just a one-point lead in the Metropolitan Division and trailed the conference-leading Boston Bruins by 10 points.

The Bruins held an almost insurmountable lead atop the conference and the Philadelphia Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the league. At that point, Washington looked more likely to drop in the standings than to climb. With the NHL’s new 24-team playoff format for the 2019-20 season, however, the Caps will have three games to possibly claim the top spot in the east.
 
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday the league’s return to play plan including the 24-team playoff format.

Washington, as one of the top four teams in the conference, will get a bye to the first round of the playoffs and not have to play in the play-in round. Instead, the Caps will play a round-robin tournament against the other top seeds in the conference: Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The winner of that round robin will determine the seeds for the playoffs.
 
The inclusion of a round-robin has some fans a bit confused as it is not something seen in a normal season so let’s break it down.
 
First off, you can throw out the current seeding for the top four teams. The regular season records determined who the top four teams are, but that is it. They no longer matter. The round robin is a clean slate for those four teams. Washington will play each of the other teams once and regular season rules will apply. That means there will not be continuous overtime in a tie game, but instead it will go to five minutes of three-on-three followed by a shootout.

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What this means is that Boston, despite being the presumptive Presidents’ Trophy winner, could fall all the way down to the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Caps, meanwhile, could claim the top spot in the conference with a strong showing in the round robin.
 
Why did the NHL do this? Bettman went into this in a video conference with the media after the initial announcement. Basically, this is an acknowledgment that the top teams need to play competitive games before playing against a team that had to win a playoff series just to get there.
 
What will be the reward for earning the top seed? It is not yet clear.
 
It has not yet been determined if the teams will be reseeded after the play-in round or if the playoff will be a bracket throughout. This could be significant depending on the upsets we see in the play-in round. For example, a bracket would set up for the No. 4 team to play the winner of the series between the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins and the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens. If Montreal pulls off the upset as the lowest seed, that would give the No. 4 seed the best matchup on paper in the next round while the No. 1 seed would be playing either the No. 8 or 9 seed.
 
As one of the top seeds, the Caps will finish no lower than No. 4 in the conference but could potentially finish No. 1.

But we are still a long way off from determining who Washington will play in their first playoff series.
 

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Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

Alex Ovechkin shares ninth Rocket Richard Trophy, but Capitals miss some other milestones

The Capitals will hopefully be back on the ice this summer for the Stanley Cup playoffs after Tuesday’s return-to-play announcement by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. 

Remember where we left off on March 12 before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted play? 

Alex Ovechkin had 48 goals and with 13 games to go he seemed a lock to reach 50 for the ninth time in his career. That would have tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history.

That won’t happen now. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declared the regular season over on Tuesday as he laid out his plans for what the league hopes to do if it can get players safely back on the ice.  

But if Ovechkin will fall just shy of 50 goals, he can console himself with yet another Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. He will share that honor this year with Boston’s David Pastrnak, who also finishes with 48 goals.

It is the first time players have shared a Rocket since 2009-10 when Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos each had 51 goals. Three players tied for it in 2003-04. That trio was Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and now-Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who was then with the Atlanta Thrashers, who now play in Winnipeg. In other words, it was a long time ago.

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Ovechkin remains two goals away from tying longtime Capitals forward Mike Gartner for No. 7 on the all-time goals list. Gartner has 708. Ovechkin sits at 706. That will have to wait until next year. Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731) and even Brett Hull (741) could all be within reach.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was far from the only Caps’ player pushing for a milestone only to come up short with the regular season ended prematurely. John Carlson won’t reach the hallowed 90-point mark for a defenseman. Carlson hit the break with 75 points, which was 10 more than anyone at the position. He still had a decent shot to get there with 13 games left.

Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque was the last NHL defenseman to hit 90 points in a season 26 years ago with the Boston Bruins in 1993-94. Carlson remains a favorite for the Norris Trophy. Wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

The Capitals had other players posting career years, too. Tom Wilson has 44 points to set a new personal best and his 21 goals were just one short of his single-season high.

Jakub Vrana, in his age 23-24 season, hit his career-best mark with 25 goals. Lars Eller had 16 goals, which was two shy of his career best (18). He also needed just one more point to reach 40 for the first time.

Maybe the most intriguing number out there? Braden Holtby is currently tied with Olie Kolzig at 35, but he might never get another chance to make that record his own. His contract expires at the end of the season. 

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