Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and his teammates get it and Carolina Hurricanes NHLPA Player Representative Jordan Martinook and the Canes as well as Tampa Bay Lightning PA Rep Alex Killorn and rest of the Bolts are tone-deaf. That much was made clear as the most surreal and non-sensical week in the history of the NHL wound down Thursday.
“For us, we have to be grateful for the opportunity we’re getting,” Chara replied when asked about the highly criticized 24-team NHL Return To Play playoff format made official by Gary Bettman this past Tuesday. “When you look at real-life, what other people’s families, businesses go through, it’s one of those things we’re getting the opportunity to start almost where we ended the season. Not everybody is getting the same chance.”
Given the fact that the new President’s Trophy winners will now have to play a round-robin to determine their seeding in the revamped 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, Chara and the Bruins could’ve put up a major stink like the Bolts and the Canes did about the eight teams that weren’t in the playoffs when the NHL season paused March 12. Chara and his teammates suffered arguably the most gut-wrenching loss of his 22-year-career but then basically ran the gamut this season and were 44-14-12 with a league-leading 100 points and an astonishing .714 winning percentage. Some would’ve expected them to have more of a gripe than the Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points, .957) and Canes (38-25-5, 81 points). Some would’ve been wrong.
At 43, Chara, the elder statesman of NHL players, is a bit more mature than the 27-year-old Martinook or the 30-year-old Killorn. Chara’s also surrounded by a leadership core of Patrice Bergeron (34) Brad Marchand (32) David Krejci (34) and Tuukka Rask (33). That experience and influence clearly had an influence on a team that let’s face it, if we are going to get caught up in the minutia of the format, has a legit beef but saw the bigger picture.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Chara reiterated. “I think you have to realize that any time you have this kind of unexpected stoppage with teams being at different points, different amount of games, you have to come up with some sort of solution. The people involved were almost daily talking to the player reps, players, different kinds of advisors to come up with the best possible solution. I think at this point what we see is probably the best. It does affect everyone and every team, but it’s one of those things that you can’t really blame anyone or feel that it’s unfair.”
Meanwhile, when asked last weekend why their teams were the only teams that voted no on the NHL Return To Play 24-team playoff format that was approved 29-2 last Friday, Martinook and Killorn didn’t back off their petty reasoning. Remember the Lightning, along with the Bruins, Washington Capitals (41-20-8, 90 points, .652) and Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, 81 points, .645) are in the same boat but somehow the Lightning are victims here? In the middle of a pandemic?
“I brought the format to my team,” Killorn told Joe Smith of The Athletic Saturday. “They didn’t feel it was fair that certain teams that probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs would have a chance to make the playoffs in a best-of-five series. My team also felt it was unfair that the teams with a bye would not be as well prepared for a playoff series as the teams that had already basically played a playoff series to get into the playoffs.”
Killorn made sure he wouldn’t get the blame on this one and threw his teammates under the whine bus with him.
“This was not my opinion alone. As the PA rep I have a duty to represent the voice of my entire team,” he said but then crutched it. … “I don’t want people to think that we don’t want to play. Everyone on our team wants to play. In saying that, we are fine with the vote the PA took and we are ready with it going forward.”
Then you have Martinook and the mediocre Canes proving their better at a storm surge than grasping reality of life outside their hockey bubble. Or even what the NHL, the NHLPA and more specifically the NHL Return To Play Committee went through to try and ensure there’s a Stanley Cup champion and that society can have a welcome respite in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed over 100,000 people in the United States. Yes money is a factor here but remember that NHL players aren’t paid for the playoffs. Obviously this will help their revenue share with the league but still one the main sources of that revenue, the fans, won’t be there and may not be for a while.
“It just kind of limits our odds and makes you play another playoff series, basically,” Martinook told reporters. “It wasn’t just for our team’s situation. … You look at teams that had a 10 percent chance to make it, and now they’re pretty much on a 50-50 playing field. I’m not taking anything away from the top four teams … but we felt like we could have kept climbing the ladder,” Martinook said. “It doesn’t really benefit the teams in 5, 6, 7 or 8, it kind of hinders those teams. Then, it gives a lot to the 9, 10, 11, and 12.”
As Chara wound down his second Zoom call with the media since the league paused, it was clear the rugged veteran, 2009 Norris Trophy winner and 2011 Stanley Cup winner wants back on the ice but has things in perspective.
“Definitely you appreciate what you have,” he said. “When you look at the big picture, obviously this becomes very uncomfortable for many of us, and it’s affected so many people. I’m so grateful that I have family and that I’ve been able to spend some time with them and everyday kind of play with my kids and see them interact and keep kind of improving in their skills. When you have a setback like this, you want to kind of step back and take a breather from the days or the routine you were involved in for so long.
It kind of makes you realize that things are not always going to be perfect, there are going to be some challenges in your life. You just have to remind yourself of what kind of worked before when you’re facing some challenges and adversity and start implementing those same routines into coming back like we’re facing now. Mostly I’m very grateful and thankful that I’ve been able to have health with my family and spend some time with them.”
Now Chara’s ready to spend time with his other family and hopefully hoist Lord Stanley one more time.