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NHL's proposed 24-team playoff format could become the norm – Toronto Sun

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The NHL playoffs are close to returning. And they are not going to be like anything we’ve seen before.

That likely goes for next year and beyond.

On Monday, the NHL held a Board of Governors meeting to discuss plans for returning to play and one of those proposals involves jumping right into the playoffs with 24 teams competing in as few as two hub cities for the Stanley Cup.

There’s a lot to unpack here logistically. And there are many questions that still have to be answered, such as which cities (there are eight or nine currently on the short list) will host the games? Will players’ families be allowed to stay with them in the hotel? How will the league regularly test players? What happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19?

And when is this even going to happen when border restrictions are preventing players — 17% of whom are currently outside of North America — from returning to the continent?

“I don’t think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a digital keynote interview with Leaders Week, a sports business conference, as reported by NHL.com on Monday. “We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we’re in a position to execute any or all of those options. There is still a great deal of uncertainty.”

But the big takeaway is that even if the NHL decides not to complete the regular season, the idea of 24 teams, not 16, could stick. That’s a huge increase. And don’t be surprised if it becomes the norm.

The reason for adding another eight teams into the playoff mix this year is mostly out of necessity. When the season was paused on March 12, there were a handful of teams on the bubble with a dozen or so games remaining on the schedule. It’s not fair to take the standings as they are today. Nor does it make sense for a team such as Detroit, which is already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, to come back and play for nothing.

Of course, the real reason for expanding the playoffs is that it puts more cash in the owners’ pockets.

The final two weeks of the regular season were going to be meaningless for Montreal or Buffalo or the teams that were essentially too far back to make a push. No one wants to watch that. But fans would definitely watch if Montreal and Buffalo were playing against each other in a post-season play-in series or as part of a round-robin.

The logistics are still being worked out. But the NHL, which would require a three-week training camp, is considering all of its options in how to make the biggest impact in its return to play.

Whatever it decides, you can bet more playoff games will be part of the equation. After all, more playoff games equal more TV revenue. And for a league that has lost so much money due to cancelling the final weeks of the regular season, this is its chance to recoup some lost dollars and keep as many fans as possible interested.

Do you honestly think the owners, who could potentially lose more money next year if fans are still not allowed back in the buildings, will want to go back to 16 teams? No chance.

The NHL will not be able to put this toothpaste back in the tube. And why would it? The playoffs are when teams make back their money. It’s when the players are playing for free and when the game tickets — when fans are in the building — cost more money. The need to be in the playoffs has now never been stronger. And it’s also never been as difficult as it is today.

When Seattle enters the league as the 32nd team in 2021-22, the odds of qualifying for the playoffs, under the existing format will drop to 50%. But if 24 out of the 32 teams make the playoffs, then the odds of qualifying will increase to 75%. That’s still less than what it was in the early 1980s, when 16 of the 21 teams (76%) made the playoffs.

In other words, it doesn’t diminish the regular season. If anything, it strengthens the post-season. And for this season, it would make the Stanley Cup something to truly remember.

“We’d like to complete this season,” Bettman said on Monday. “We’d like to award the Stanley Cup, the most treasured trophy and the most historic trophy in all of sports. And our fans are telling us overwhelmingly that’s what they’d like us to do, because people have an emotional investment in this season already.”

If more teams are involved, more fans will profit from that emotional investment. This year and beyond.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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Wheeler on racism: 'You can't be silent anymore' – TSN

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Blake Wheeler says he regrets not speaking up sooner.

After posting a letter to Twitter over the weekend on the death of George Floyd and the mass protests that followed across the United States, the captain of the Winnipeg Jets said on a Tuesday video conference call with reporters that “you can’t be silent anymore.”

Wheeler said the death of Floyd last week, as well as the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year, finally moved him to speak up on the issue of racism.

“I haven’t done a good enough job in the past,” Wheeler said. “I’ve felt this way for a long time.”

The Minnesota native’s weekend post included the phrase “America is not OK” in response to the killing Floyd. The 46-year-old black man died last Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

A number of other prominent NHL players, including San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane, who is black, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, who is Latino-American, Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin, and Tampa Bay Lightning centre Steven Stamkos, have posted similar messages to social media in recent days.

The NHL, NHL Players’ Association, NHL Coaches’ Association, the vast majority of teams, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey have also posted to social media on the topic or shared players’ words from their official accounts.

Derek Chauvin, 44, and three other Minneapolis police officers were fired in the wake of Floyd’s death. Chauvin was subsequently charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Two white men were arrested last month for the February shooting death of Arbery, a black jogger, in Georgia, while the Louisville police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in her home in March also attracted national attention in May.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

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Hall of Famer Unseld dead at 74 – TSN

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Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Wes Unseld has died at the age of 74 after a bout of pneumonia, the Washington Wizards announced on Tuesday.

The Louisville native spent all 13 of his NBA seasons with the Baltimore/Washington Bullets franchise.

“He was the rock of our family – an extremely devoted patriarch who reveled in being with his wife, children, friends and teammates,” Unseld’s family said in a statement. “He was our hero and loved playing and working around the game of basketball for the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C., cities he proudly wore on his chest for so many years.”

Unseld appeared in a Bullets/Wizards franchise record 984 games, averaging 10.8 points and 14.8 rebounds over his career.

Taken with the second pick of the 1968 NBA Draft out of Louisville, Unseld, a five-time All-Star, won both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 1969.

“We all admired Wes as the pillar of this franchise for so long, but it was his work off the court that will truly leave an impactful legacy and live on through the many people he touched and influenced throughout his life of basketball and beyond,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement.

Upon his retirement, Unseld joined the organization’s front office, becoming the team’s vice-president in 1981. In 1988, Unseld became the Bullets head coach, resigning in 1994.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988 and to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Poll: Canadians OK with being benched as NHL playoff venue – Sports – Castanet.net

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It looks like hockey fans will be able to cheer on their favourite NHL team this summer but Canadians have issued a collective shrug about whether the Stanley Cup is hoisted on their home ice.

Less than one-quarter of those who took part in a recent survey said it was very important that a Canadian city be host to some of the playoffs.

The web survey, conducted by polling firm Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, found 47 per cent thought it wasn’t important that the puck drop in a Canadian arena.

The NHL plans to resume its 2019-20 season, brought to a halt in March by the COVID-19 pandemic, with games played in two hub cities.

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto are among the 10 possible locations, but Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country remains in place and could scuttle the prospect of hockey north of the 49th parallel.

The survey was conducted May 29 to 31 among 1,536 Canadians and 1,002 Americans, 18 or older, who were randomly recruited from an online panel.

The hockey question, limited to Canadian respondents, revealed 24 per cent felt it was very important for a Canadian city to play host, while 20 per cent said it was somewhat important.

Thirty-five per cent said it was not important at all, 12 per cent felt it was somewhat unimportant and nine per cent didn’t know.

The fact the NHL plans to bar spectators from the stands during playoff games due to COVID-19 “probably cooled off a few respondents,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

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