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NHL Return Update

NHL Return Update: Leafs Or Blue Jackets For Bruins In First Round?



Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported Thursday afternoon that the NHL and NHLPA were still engaged in serious discussions on the latest NHL Return To Play playoff format and hoping to have a solution by 7 PM ET so they could start working on bigger issues such as safety and hub cities. Lebrun also said that the NHLPA Executive Board could ask for more tweaks from the NHL Return To Play Committee carrying the process into the weekend. As of now, the NHLPA would prefer to have a “full league-wide vote” but there still could be one just amongst the team reps and the board.

If this new playoff format that the NHLPA and NHL are currently discussing as the on-ice base of an NHL return to the ice is approved, the Boston Bruins would play either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-seven series after those two clubs battle it out in a best-of-five play-in series.

On Wednesday night, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that the NHL Return To Play Committee had submitted the much-bantered about 24-team Stanley Cup playoff proposal in an effort to jumpstart the process of getting the NHL back from the Coronavirus pause it took on March 12. According to Friedman, the playoff tournament would be conferenced based and seeded according to points percentage. The top four seeds in each conference would get a bye and the bottom four would play the best-of-five play-in series. 

Per Friedman, here’s how it would break down:

‘The top four seeds (based on points percentage) in the East would be Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. Top four in the West would be St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas.

They would receive byes through the play-in but participate in a three-game tournament to get some action. I confess I’m not certain of all the details on if or how it would affect playoff seeding.

The top four seeds (based on points percentage) in the East would be Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia. Top four in the West would be St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas.

They would receive byes through the play-in but participate in a three-game tournament to get some action. I confess I’m not certain of all the details on if or how it would affect playoff seeding.

The rest of the playoffs would be “bracketed.” That means, in both conferences 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9.

So that would mean an Eastern Conference opening round of:

  • 5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays four seed)
  • 6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers (winner plays three seed)
  • 7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays two seed)
  • 8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays one seed)

And a Western Conference opening round of:

  • 5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago (winner plays four seed)
  • 6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona (winner plays three seed)
  • 7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota (winner plays two seed)
  • 8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg (winner plays one seed)

The play-in series would be a best-of-five. The rest of the playoffs would be best-of-seven.’

On Monday we took a look at how the Columbus Blue Jackets and rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins could be a tough matchup for the Bruins and later today we will give you our take on what a third-straight opening-round tilt with the rival Leafs could play out. The Bruins and Leafs went to seven games in each of the last two seasons with the Bruins hosting and winning Game 7 each time. The Bruins, of course, have won three straight Game 7’s over the Leafs going back to the amazing third period comeback and overtime win in 2013.

The fifth-seeded teams in each conference are reportedly not too happy with having to play the 23rd ranked Blackhawks (.514) and the 24th ranked Montreal Canadiens (.500). The thought of having to face the likes of three-time Stanley Cup champions like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Corey Crawford in a shortened series isn’t exactly preferable for the younger and inexperienced Oilers, even with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. In the east, even with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still a major threat, the Penguins know Habs goalie Carey Price could steal a series. 

Canada Safety Measures May Mean No Canadian Hubs

Speaking of hub cities for an NHL return, due to the United States being the hardest-hit nation in the world by the Coronavirus (1.5 million cases, 93,806 deaths as of Friday afternoon), Canada has imposed stricter guidelines for essential travelers allowed into their country. Even if NHL players quarantined for two weeks when they returned to their respective NHL cities in the United States prior to traveling to a hub city, they would need to quarantine another two weeks when they cross north of the border. 

However as Ryan Rishaug of TSN reported Thursday night, the NHL and NHLPA are hoping that once the teams enter their hockey bubble quarantine in the hub city that would suffice and allow them to hit the ice right away. 

“The fundamental issue is that anybody coming into Canada from the United States has to quarantine for 14 days,” Rishaug pointed out to colleague Rod Smith. “NHL players will have already quarantined in their own city. That makes it not doable to come to Canada for the NHL if they insist on another quarantine period and they’re running out of time to get this sorted out. But the workaround could be this: 

An NHL team arrives in Edmonton and says this: ‘Our quarantine plan is we’re going to go to ice district and enter a bubble of isolation that the NHL has created and that would essentially be their two-week quarantine. The Federal government and the Provincial governments have had discussions about this and the idea in principle has been accepted but there’s still work to be done, working their way through all of this red tape.”

Pens In 5 Over Price and Habs In NHL Return Play-In?

Colleague Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now doesn’t seem too worried that Price and the Habs could steal a shortened series from the Pens in the play-in round, giving the edge to Pittsburgh in every category except goaltending. Here’s Kingerski’s take on why the Penguins should win in four games:

“The Penguins should steamroll through Montreal with superior forward skill and depth. The Penguins defense should, at worst, produce a draw with their Montreal counterparts. And, it will likely take an unbelievable performance from Price to steal a five-game series. Montreal will win a game to make it interesting, but the Penguins should easily win the series.

And, the extra play-in series will give the Penguins a leg up on the orange and black paper tiger which comes next, the Philadelphia Flyers.”

With 20 years of experience (SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, ESPNBoston, NESN,, etc.) covering the Bruins, the NHL, NCAA and junior hockey and more, Jimmy Murphy’s hockey black book is full of Hall of Famers, current players, coaches, management, scouts and a wide array of hockey media personalities that have lived in and around this great game. For 17 of his 20 years as a hockey and sports reporter, Murph covered the Bruins on essentially a daily basis covering their victorious 2011 Stanley Cup run and their 2013 run to the Final as well. Murphy has hosted national and local radio shows and podcasts and also has experience in TV as well.

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