The Habs having a shot at being in the playoffs is something that didn’t look likely before the pandemic. Now that they’re back in it, should they be? Our writers offer up their thoughts on the 24-team return and Montreal’s inclusion.
Terry Costaris: It’s been an extremely boring three months of isolation. I get the reason why so many of us want a resumption of normalcy by bringing back hockey. We all need a diversion from our Groundhog Day-like lives of late.
I also get the economics of a cancelled season. The NHL has TV contracts to fulfill or it will lose around $450M which is not chump change.
The players must be worried about their future earnings. A one to two-year delay is worth millions that can never be recuperated in this young man’s sport. Lost revenues will also impact the cap.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The games will be second rate. Teams like Montreal and Chicago absolutely have no business being in the playoffs. The only reason that they have made the cut is because they are important television markets. If any bottom dweller club makes a serious playoff run or wins the Cup, the NHL will have egg all over its face.
Many players will likely get injured because their timing will be off and others are bound to be infected with COVID-19. What happens if some die of this disease? Max Domi, for example, has diabetes which puts him at higher risk than most.
Then there are all those involved in the operations of this mass undertaking. Some may die or infect others on the outside – all for our sheer entertainment.
To ice 24 teams in the middle of the greatest health crisis of our lifetime requires a lot of personnel not to mention, considerably large reserves of medical equipment that could instead be used for those in need.
How will any government justify allowing this to happen on their watch? The political optics of “wasting” precious resources for entertainment purposes could turn ugly very fast, especially if an election is called with Canada’s minority federal government. Back during the H1N1 scare, public outrage was very high when Calgary Flames players were given flu shots ahead of others.
And what happens when a teammate is seriously injured and is sent to a hospital? He can’t just return. He’ll need to isolate for 14 days? Won’t this promote goonery to the next level? If you can send Connor McDavid to the hospital for a mild concussion, he’s done for the playoffs.
Whoever wins the Cup will have a giant asterisk beside it.
And I haven’t mentioned the draft implications. Habs fans have suffered for a long time. We are one, probably two good drafts away from finally breaking out of our mediocrity.
If the Canadiens somehow deliver playoff magic, we will once again miss out on restocking our cabinets with top-end talent to become real contenders in a few years. If the Habs somehow make a serious playoff run, which is possible with a hot Carey Price leading the way, it could give us more years of mediocrity and for what? A nothing sandwich of a tournament that served as a momentary distraction during a tough part of our lives.
For months, Hab fans at least had the hope of snagging a high-end prospect and potentially winning the draft lottery. That’s pretty much all gone.
Anything can happen in this tournament. Beating Pittsburgh is possible. That would lead to yet another mid-round draft pick. If we pull a 2010, the Canadiens will draft even lower and our frustrations concerning this franchise’s future will only rise. A few weeks of fun in the sun is not worth a decade of serious contention.
At the very least, there should have been a guaranteed draft pick here, regardless of circumstances, as no one considers this tournament as being legitimate. It’s purely a business decision and as such at least needed some negotiated guarantees. Geoff Molson dropped the ball on this matter.
Finally, I keep hearing and reading from a lot of fans and media personalities who are buying into the narrative that “this playoff experience will ultimately benefit the Habs”. Really?
Did it make them a powerhouse after the 2010 Cinderella run? How about after they were knocked out of the Conference Final? Did the Toronto Maple Leafs become better after losing to the Bruins on multiple occasions?
At least Toronto played under normal playoff conditions. When will the Canadiens once again play in neutral cities, before zero fans while living in soldier-like circumstances? There is very little experience to be gained in this summertime carnival.
As I said, I get the financial component but stuff happens. This is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. If we all can agree that money is the driving force here then let’s instead look at potential financial solutions. Perhaps the league can find the lost money elsewhere.
For example, why not expand by one more team where expansion was never going to happen such as Quebec City and use the fees to cover the league’s losses and pay off the broadcasters? That’s $450-$500M right there.
How about a second franchise in Toronto? That’s $700M.
If you allow these cities to enter, deny them revenue sharing to a certain degree for the first decade of operations to protect the current NHL teams. Simultaneously, lower the cap to offset losses and move some higher burdensome salaries such as Milan Lucic’s over to these new franchises. I made some of these points in a column at the beginning of this pandemic and it still holds true now.
I know that people REALLY want to see hockey. I do too. But there are far too many potential problems with resuming play right now.
The NHL should reconsider its decision and look at the idea of expansion as found money to pay off NBC, Sportsnet and the regional broadcasters what is due. It should ride out this miserable situation until February or April of 2021 when a vaccine will likely become available and use this time to strategize on improving its product when it is finally safe to fully resume play.
Allan Katz: The word Fan is an abbreviation of the actual term; FANATIC. A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause.
This is a Habs’ fan site, meant for the fanatics that follow the Habs. For us it’s a religion and just like in real life, with issues about religion, our fan base has reactions all over the place to the question. Orthodoxy in all religions has one common link, ‘My religion is’ way better than yours, no discussion needed. So my opinion on this is, rigid, non-negotiable and filled with self-righteousness.
The 24-team format is awesome because the Habs are in the playoffs (or should we say play-ins) and I can watch them, cheer, laugh, cry, scream, jump, punch holes in walls and freak out my cats if I want to. Let’s look at the negative reasons some betrayers of the faith have put up.
1) They don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. – Based on what? Okay, I know why, but still. The world of sports might be altered in ways we can only imagine and in some ways we cannot. Next winter there might not be any hockey or any sports. Students of history will note during the Spanish Flu the second wave involved 50 million dead after losing 500,000 in the first wave. After four years, it was close to 100 million dead before the nightmare subsided. The numbers should not be as bad this time, but the length of time till crowds can come back might be similar. Next year there might be no hockey anywhere, no team sports anywhere. Let’s go for it and have fun, live for the moment, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. As far as the “deserving” is involved, the NHL, for their reasons, mandated they return. It’s a reality (if it even happens) so accept it and enjoy.
2) They will hurt their future if they go on a run of any sort as their draft pick will drop precipitously. The correct statement would be “they might hurt their future.” Using this logic, the Toronto Raptors should not have made the trade that won them the NBA title, but they did. Here in L.A., everyone was cheering for the Raptors; it was an awesome feel-good story. But let’s make this argument as concrete as possible. It comes down to this: If the Habs are not in the playoffs they get a Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a high-end blue-chip prospect that might or might not be a dominant player. In the playoffs, they might have to settle for a Cole Caufield or a Shea Weber or a Cayden Primeau. Yes, the odds increase the higher you draft, but it is still possible to draft a Weber at 40-something, a Caufield with a mid-first rounder or a Primeau in the seventh round. It’s called a crapshoot for a reason.
So I’m going all in, no complaints and am hoping the Habs make a competitive series really fun to watch. Am I delusional? Of course I am, I’m a Habs Fan.
Brian La Rose: I have a mixed opinion on this one. Let’s face it, had the regular season concluded as scheduled, the Habs would have missed the playoffs by a considerable margin and that would have been that. So to give them a legitimate opportunity to get there now seems a little gimmicky.
But I’m also not going to be all that upset about them being in it. It has been a long time without hockey already (and we’re still more than a month away from these happening at the earliest). With the start of next season believed to be planned for December, there’s another large gap without games on the horizon as well. So even if it’s for just a few weeks (a pair of exhibition games and a best-of-five series), I’m okay with the Canadiens returning.
Should they be there? Not really. But they are so rather than dwell on how much of a gimmick it might be, I’ll focus on the actual games instead.
Paul MacLeod: Initially, I was very excited by the prospect of Les Canadiens playing some meaningful hockey this season. That excitement has been somewhat tempered by the reality that the format really is lose-lose for the team. Either they lose to the Penguins and have a good pick with reduced odds to move up in the draft or they beat the Penguins and draft 16th. The more they win the worse it actually is for the team’s long term future. The only way that the return to play is really good for Montreal is if they manage to pull off a miracle like 1986 and win the Cup. Nevertheless, even if losing is the better long-term strategy, I will still be cheering for the Habs to win and hoping for a miracle.
Norm Szcyrek: I am honestly torn on this topic. It is exciting to think this season’s Habs have technically “made it” to the playoffs. After an interrupted season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was not optimistic the NHL was going to have a postseason. Reading a media article about some of the players’ union being concerned about facing Carey Price in a short series makes me feel somewhat better.
On the other hand, I don’t feel the Canadiens deserved to make it to the postseason. They have been subpar for most of 2019-20, with a pair of eight-game winless streaks. With the 24th position in the league standings before the stoppage, I expected the staff to be focused on the draft and nothing else. Since their opponent will be Pittsburgh I don’t believe they have any chance at defeating them.
Dave Woodward: The twenty-four team format is unfair and inappropriate for the following reasons:
1) It is unfair to teams that are in real contention for a playoff spot.
2) The format is an unexpected and unearned windfall to teams like the Canadiens who had no real chance of making the playoffs and now have the opportunity to play a team with a far better record in a shortened series.
3) The format changes the rules of engagement during the regular season. It is the equivalent of moving the goalposts between periods for the benefit of some of the weaker teams.
4) By allowing 24 teams to qualify, the format renders this past regular season a bit of a sideshow. After all those games, only seven teams are eliminated from the play-ins.
5) By adopting this format which will increase revenue, the league will be tempted to permanently revamp the playoff format to allow more teams to qualify. This will make the regular season games a glorified preseason for the best teams. There will be an incentive for many teams to rest players or for players to hold back so they have plenty of gas in the tank for the games that really matter. This is bad for the game.
6) With ticket prices in the stratosphere in many markets, it may be difficult for fans to find a regular season ticket price worthwhile. Each game’s importance is marginal and the players are probably not all in.
That said, some form of return was going to be attempted because the losses associated with the season shutdown in mid-March were simply too steep. If the financial losses were not a factor, I would have preferred that the season end and have hockey return in October. Hockey in July and August? No thanks. However, the owners had to try and recoup their losses somehow.
From the Habs’ perspective, it will be positive for their young players to finally get some playoff experience. Even Max Domi has never played in an NHL playoff game and there are plenty of other players that will benefit from a playoff/play-in round. On the other hand, this could potentially hurt their draft position. If the Canadiens end up with a much lower pick as a result of participating in the playoffs (or the play-in round as some describe it) in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, that could cost the Habs a generational player. On balance, this scribbler would have preferred the opportunity to draft an elite player. The Canadiens are not going anywhere this year anyway.