Hockey playoffs in July-August-September, an unheard of happenstance for sure, becomes a reality Saturday when the NHL kicks-off the Stanley Cup playoffs, 2020 style, in hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. All to be capped off with the finals in Edmonton, which could extend into October.
The NHL, and the NHLPA, decided that it would be more fun, and confusing, if they changed the entire playoffs for this year for some reason. First, they added four teams from each conference into the playoff mix. This allowed them to include Montreal and Chicago, two ratings juggernauts, in order to try to capture as many fans as possible.
The hope is that one of these teams will catch fire and make a long run in the playoffs, but if they are culled out in this opening round, they have figured out another way to keep things interesting by allowing the eight losing teams in round one to now have a "random" chance at the overall number one pick in the upcoming draft. This one in eight opportunity has befuddled every team in hockey but it is what it is.
The remaining top four teams in each conference will be playing their own round robin tournament which will then determine the seeding for the start of the primary playoffs. The fact that they played 70+ games of the regular season and teams were slotted already is out the window as it will now be possible for the top team to slide down to the fourth spot, and the fourth spot team up to the first. Why? Gary Bettman says so, that's why.
Then, those four teams will play the survivors of the play-in round, best of five winners, after everyone is reseeded. I think they will then set up the playoff brackets for the rest of the way but I am still confused on this whole mess.
Anyway, I needed to get my head back around hockey after focusing on the baseball season, so I called the In My Opinion hockey guru, the great John Markiewicz, to talk about the playoffs and get his thoughts on the Blackhawks and hockey in general. Our edited conversation follows.
In My Opinion: Hey there, how have you been Covid-ing? I trust all is well?
John Markiewicz: All is good here. We've been staying safe, I've been working steady throughout, which has been good, but I'm ready for hockey to start up again.
IMO: Yeah, we all are ready for playoff hockey. Now that teams have had five months off, how are the Blackhawks now, compared to when things shut down?
JM: The shutdown has really helped them a lot. Calvin de Haan has been able to recover from his injuries and will be a huge help on the defensive side, plus Duncan Keith has fresh legs going into the playoffs which is another big plus for the Hawks. If Corey Crawford can get himself ready, now that he's recovered from the virus, he can steal a series for the team, and Jonathon Toews along with Patrick Kane should be pumped and ready to go.
IMO: The Edmonton Oilers, who the Hawks face in the play-in round, are one of the fastest teams in hockey, can the Blackhawks keep up with them and what is the key to beating the Oilers?
JM: Absolutely they can handle the Oilers, in fact they beat them a couple of times in the regular season. There are two guys the Hawks need to stop and they are Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. If they can contain those two the rest of the Oilers are pretty average. By the way, the Blackhawks have the youngest team, based on average age, in the playoffs so a lot of young legs for the Hawks.
IMO: I did not realize that. Who needs to step up for the Hawks beyond the core guys?
JM: Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strohm, Blake Caggiula, and Dominik Kubalik come to mind on offense, while Adam Boqvist and Olli Maatta on defense need to play strong. But really, it comes down to Crow in net. If he is on his game, he is one of the elite goalies, and can carry this team.
IMO: What else do they need to do?
JM: Stay out of the penalty box. The Oilers have one of the most dynamic power plays in hockey right now and can be virtually unstoppable for long stretches. Not giving them chances will really help them to win this series. The Hawks penalty kill was top ten this season, and they are much improved, but the Oilers are really good on the PP.
IMO: Anything else you looking forward to?
JM: The playoff opportunity, that has fallen into the Hawks lap, will really help the young kids get a feel for what playoff hockey is all about. It's different than the regular season, the intensity is different, and the speed of the game is different. You can't get a feel for it on TV, you have to be in the middle of it, and this is going to help the team going forward.
JM: I think the Hawks chances are 50/50 against Edmonton, so I'm going to say the series goes all five games and either team could win it. I will say that the team that wins game one has a decided edge because the other team then needs to go and win three out of four games to advance.
What a crazy time, in general, but in sports, in particular. Baseball has started and already we have teams on hold because of the Covid virus. Hockey playoffs are about to start and even if you are only a casual hockey fan, the playoffs are awesome and you need to watch some games. Golf is back and we are about to head into a stretch with nothing but majors and the Solheim Cup on the PGA and LPGA tours. NFL football is still planning on opening camp shortly and the NBA playoffs will be starting also. From nothing to watch to everything to watch.