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JONES: New Stanley Cup playoff concept taking shape

The Stanley Cup logo appears on the ice where the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues met in Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup final at TD Garden. Needless to say, the 2020 playoffs will look a whole lot different.
The Stanley Cup logo appears on the ice where the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues met in Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup final at TD Garden. Needless to say, the 2020 playoffs will look a whole lot different.

There are those who contend there is not a more difficult trophy to win in all of professional team sports than hockey’s Stanley Cup.

But now there may be a tougher one than being the survivor of the annual marathon involving four best-of-seven series, often featuring games going two and three overtime periods with off-the-charts physical combat.

That would be the NHL’s 2020 COVID Cup.

O.K., there wouldn’t be the exhausting travel of 2-2-1-1-1 playoff series this year with two hub cities featuring 12 teams each, playing host to all of the games.

But otherwise …

Think about the concept Connor McDavid and the ‘Return To Play’ committee put in front of the 31 NHL team player reps for conference-call voting that looks to be accepted.

There would be no further regular-season play to determine the 16 teams advancing to the playoffs, as previously proposed.

Instead, the playoffs would be expanded from 16 to 24 teams featuring eight proposed best-of-five play-in series to advance to the traditional bet-of-sevens.

For all six Canadian teams involved, that would require winning 19 playoff games instead of 16.

If this format is adopted for these playoffs to begin, there will be a huge focus on two play-in series, in particular.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Edmonton Oilers would be meeting one-percent-chance-to-make-the-playoff entities such as Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks, respectively.

Forget those actual series. Think of the build-up to get to them.

What we’re going to be dealing with here is the longest advance analysis to each of those series in Stanley Cup playoff history.

Normally, the match-ups aren’t set until the final weekend of regular-season play. But now, the fans and media will have maybe 45 days to analyze the living bleep out of it.

You have 14-day quarantine periods in many NHL cities for players arriving from other nations, a period of a week or so to begin four- or five-player groupings to begin skating again and three-week training camps.

The NHL is going to need to have these series going by July 23. That’s the day the opening ceremonies were scheduled for the Tokyo Olympics and this will be the primary replacement programming for Olympic Games TV rights holder NBC.

So, I guess the first thing you should know is these best-of-fives all look like toss ups.

The home team in the Edmonton-Chicago games won all three. The Blackhawks won 4-3 and 3-1 in Chicago and lost 5-3 in Edmonton. The Penguins won 4-1 and 3-2 and lost 4-1 to Montreal. The Maple Leafs split with the Blue Jackets, winning 4-1 and 8-6 and losing 6-3 and 4-3 in overtime, while the Canucks lost two of three against the Wild, winning 4-1 and losing 4-2 and 4-3 in OT. The Jets and Flames only met once all season, a 2-1 OT win for Winnipeg. Two other scheduled games were lost to the shutdown.

But, as I suggest, there’s plenty of time for all of that.

What fascinates me most right now is the hub-city concept, especially if Edmonton wins the bid.

You could make the case that without atmosphere and the intensity of fans and some of the conditions likely involved, maybe the COVID Cup might be the opposite of how I project it. Maybe it’ll just be one big friendly TV show.

First of all, the players are going to have to promise not to spit, scrum after whistles, provide face-washes – not to mention face-licking by Boston’s Brad Marchand – or hug each other and the like when they score goals.

Spitting Chicklets would almost certainly be prohibited.

Now all 12 teams might be living in the same five-star J.W. Marriott across the pedway from Rogers Place.

With two NHL hub cities and not including the Stanley Cup Final itself, each hub would play host to a minimum of 46 games and maximum of 68. The hope would be to do it in 60 days. So they’d be seeing a lot of each other.

Maybe you’d need referees to ride the elevators.

There’s talk the Oilers are getting creative in attempting to win the bid by securing a golf course, like maybe the nearby Royal Mayfair to provide tee times for teams on their off-days. On the first tee, the McDavid foursome. On deck, the Kane foursome?

There’s also talk of turning the newly created Ice District over to the players so they can sit outside on a perfect Alberta evening and watch the other games on big screen video boards and engage in other activities.

Hey, with only 50 active cases remaining in Edmonton, there’s no reason to lock the teams up and force them to sit in their rooms and play solitaire all day, especially if they sweep a series and have a week to wait before starting the next one.

You have to wonder what the new normal level of legendary Stanley Cup hatred would be?


On Twitter: @ByTerryJones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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