Seeing as how there are no asterisks beside either the 1995 New Jersey Devils’ or the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championships – both following abbreviated seasons — anything now would appear possible.
So when the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced on Friday night the first step in approving a proposed 24-team postseason tournament to determine a titlist for the 2019-20 season, hardly a soul blinked an eye.
If Stanley Cups can be awarded after labor-shortened 48-game seasons like those of the Devils and Blackhawks, why would anyone be upset with two dozen teams in a free-for-all, given the COVID-19 circumstances?
Nothing is final yet because some issues still have to be worked out. Little things, you know, like how to keep the players safe for two months in a league where everybody sweats and spits on each other.
Bringing an extra eight teams into the fray would only seem to up the odds of something unfortunate happening. But that’s a story for another day.
In a media conference call on Wednesday, Flyers’ NHLPA rep (and Return to Play committee member) James van Riemsdyk was asked if all this posturing and making things up on the fly could result in a Stanley Cup which everyone would respect.
Van Riemsdyk got within two wins of a Stanley Cup with the Flyers back in 2010 and had a chance to watch the jubilant Blackhawks lug the most cherished trophy in North American sports around his Wells Fargo Center ice, so he knows how special that moment can be.
JVR sounds fairly confident the NHL can pull this off and crown a champion the public can believe in.
“Certainly the integrity of that is highly important,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “That’s something we are talking about too on this committee — about how to balance that and manage that the best way we can.
“When you look around at every single sports league in the world, I think the only league where you know the trophy is hockey and the Stanley Cup. We want to keep that. We know how important that is and how much pride we take as hockey players in that.’’
According to a story in the Associated Press, the top four teams in each conference would play a mini-tournament to determine seeding, while the other 16 teams would compete in eight series to determine the final 16 teams for first-round play.
Since play ended with the Flyers one of the top four teams (along with Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington) in the Eastern Conference, they would participate in the mini-tournament to determine home-ice advantage, etc.
Van Riemsdyk just wants this competition, which could start as late as mid-August, to ensure the legitimacy of a Cup winner.
“Obviously we want a format that still reflects that,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “No matter what, it’s going to be something that’s a tough thing to win. There’s a lot of other factors that come into play for that. Certainly we want to do a format that respects that and keeps that integrity and competitiveness balance managed in that.’’
Up until recently, Ivan Provorov reportedly was the only Flyer who had access to ice (at a private rink near where he was staying with his junior hockey billet family outside of Wilkes-Barre) during the pandemic.
That’s starting to change.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux was able to find a private rink open near Ottawa as parts of Canada begin to reopen.
Giroux has been working out on his own during the lockdown but it’s all dryland training up until now.
He’s just grateful for the opportunity to get back on skates.
“I think it’s the only rink available in Ottawa,’’ Giroux said. “When I got the call that we were good to go and we could start skating, you just want to go out there and see how you feel,’’
Only four players and one instructor were allowed on the ice when Giroux skated.
Also, social distancing guidelines had to be followed, which can be difficult during any sort of hockey activity.
“Yeah, it’s not too bad with the skates (sessions) we have,’’ Giroux said. “It’s kind of skill work, it’s not really battles. It’s not too hard but it (social distancing) is something we have to remind ourselves for sure.’’
Like everyone, Giroux was getting a little anxious to get out and do something besides watch TV.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time at home with my wife and my eight-month-old baby,’’ he said. “We’re having a good time together and the weather now has been good, too. We have some rules (in skating sessions) to follow and just getting back on the ice will be great.’’