For the first time since the NHL season came to a halt in early March, commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the possibility of not completing the regular season before starting the playoffs.
“We’re looking at all options. Nothing’s been ruled in. Nothing’s been ruled out,” Bettman said on Tuesday.
“The best thing and the easiest thing would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do,” he continued. “We understand that may not be possible. And that’s why we’re considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”
While nothing is set in stone, shortening – if not cancelling – the rest of the regular season seems to be one of the more likely possibilities if the NHL is able to resume.
Every team in the league has played at least 68 games, with over half of the league (19 teams) playing 70 games. Only two teams haven’t reached the 69-game mark, but those two teams are on the bubble in the East: the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders.
The Hurricanes hold the first Wild Card spot with 81 points, while the Islanders are one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second Wild Card spot, but they have played two less games. However, if the NHL doesn’t resume the regular season and determines playoff position by point percentage, both would make the postseason.
With so many teams on the bubble, the NHL may need to hold play-in games or short tournaments to determine playoff positioning.
If the regular season is complete and the playoffs are based off of games played through March 11th, the last day before the pause, it may be good news for the Flyers.
The Flyers stormed back into playoff position – and all the way toward the top of the Metro – thanks to a great two-month stretch starting on January 8th.
Since January 8th, the Flyers are tied with the Bruins for the league lead in wins (19) and points (39) in 26 games. The Flyers have not lost back-to-back games in that span with a 19-6-1 record, outscoring opponents 94-62.
While the Flyers have lost their momentum of several weeks of strong play, that strong play catapulted them into second place in the Metropolitan Division. That would earn them home-ice advantage in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the regular season were to resume and teams played their scheduled games, the Flyers may fall out of that position.
Sure, the Flyers may have continued their strong play and taken over first place – they are only a point behind the Capitals afterall –, but that didn’t seem likely in the grand scheme of things.
Heading into the final week before the pause, the Flyers were tied for the 10th-hardest remaining schedule by opponent point percentage (56.8%). Meanwhile, the Capitals had the easiest remaining schedule in the league with their opponent point percentage at just 51.4%. The Penguins had a slightly easier schedule than the Flyers (56.3%) as well, which could shift things.
The Flyers will also have a few of their key players back from injury if the season does resume in any capacity. James van Riemsdyk is nearing the end of his timetable to recover from a broken finger, and Philippe Myers should be recovered from his fractured patella on his right knee.
Ramping up right into a playoff situation would be tough for players, however. They usually have a month or so of practices and training camp, including preseason games before the regular season begins. Going straight into the playoffs would be different, and possibly even dangerous.
Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher acknowledged that last week in a one-on-one with Bill Meltzer.
Here is what Fletcher said when asked about concerns regarding players being more susceptible to injuries that are more common earlier in the season:
In a word, yes. There are two different types of conditioning: overall physical fitness and game conditioning. You are right that groin pulls and other soft tissue injuries tend to be more common in camp. What I can say to that is that we’ve come a long way over the years in terms of the sports science and knowing how to reduce some of the risks; not pushing too much and too soon, and working up to being game ready. Realistically, there probably would still be a few more of those types of injuries than you’d typically see this time of year. I’m not sure if there’s any way to completely avoid it, but every team and every player will be in the same boat because of the unprecedented circumstances we have right now.
The NHL also wants to make sure that the 2020-21 season can run as smooth as possible. It’ll be unlikely to start next season in September or October, but last month Bill Daly said that it was vital for it to be a full 82-game slate. With that in mind, shortening the regular season – and possibly even altering the playoffs – gets likelier and likelier as time passes.
The most important thing right now is to stay isolated until it is safe to resume normal activity. NHL players have been asked to self-quarantine through April 15th, which is a date that is likely to be pushed back again after it was moved twice already.
Health and safety is of the utmost importance, but once everything does calm back down, the NHL may be ready to ramp things up and get the Stanley Cup Playoffs going.