The line between competing and not has been pretty thin in the NHL’s Pacific Division during the 2019-20 season, but as the league continues to make contingency plans on salvaging the season after the coronavirus-induced pause, deciding how to proceed with bubble teams will continue to cause friction.
To be clear, no solution at the end of all of this will be without teams that are getting screwed over in the process. However, one popular proposal, should the NHL not be able to finish out a regular season, could cause a dramatic gear-shift for the Anaheim Ducks who, at sixth in the Pacific and 13th in the Western Conference, were by no means a “bubble team” before this began.
Here’s how Mark Spector at Sportsnet describes the scenario:
Assuming no regular season games get played, the most popular playoff scenario is the following: The Top 6 teams from each Division meet in one city. They would open with best-of-three series between the No. 1 and 2 seeds (to decide a Division winner), while No. 3 meets 6 and 4 meets 5 for the right to keep playing.
Under this scenario, the only current seventh place team that may feel left out is the New York Rangers. They are one point behind the sixth place Islanders in the Metropolitan Division but the Rangers have played two more games. There are no teams that could say the No. 6 seed had the advantage of playing more games than them, and that they were unfairly treated.
In the case of the Ducks, they would be facing off against the third-seed, which would be the Vegas Golden Knights, for the right to keep playing.
What this doesn’t account for then, is how to determine draft order — which may be a moot point if the NHL decides to hold the draft before the playoffs, but in the case that they don’t, does that mean the Ducks just have to live with a ninth-overall draft pick, instead of having the fifth-best odds for a lottery pick?
What’s a Ducks team to do? Could they be the team that highlights just how meaningless this all is by getting the first overall pick and a Stanley Cup in the same season?
The NHL says not to worry.
While plans are being discussed — as potentials and hypotheticals — nothing can be set in stone until health officials give the go-ahead, some Spector also noted in his work. What they are calling “Phase 2,” which is loosely defined as whatever comes following the period of self-isolation, is essentially just plans, all based on contingencies and a thousand other factors that are largely out of everyone’s control.
They emphasized in a release that while there are rumors about how the league will return, they have not reached a concrete plan of action because North America is still largely self-isolating. The league hopes that “Players might return to small group activities in NHL Club training facilities” by mid-to-late May, but until they’re cleared to do so, nothing has changed.
The NHL/NHLPA Return to Play Committee will continue to meet and plan, because for now, that’s all they can do.