Hockey fans have endured one month of the NHL season suspension with little reprieve as to when or if the 2019-20 season will resume in the near future.
As time ticks away and winter has turned into spring and spring will become summer soon enough, the NHL has begun looking at different playoff scenarios that will bring closure to this current season and hopefully crown a Stanley Cup champion for 2020.
The elephant in the room, in terms of creating a playoff that provides the opportunity for many teams to compete for the Stanley Cup, lies in exactly who moves on to the playoffs and how they will be played. Furthermore, where will the playoffs be played? One of the most interesting and novel scenarios for wrapping up the NHL season lies in the possibility of a true winner-take-all tournament at a neutral site. Numerous sites have been floated around in the past few days, and one of the most novel sites mentioned has been the state of North Dakota.
North Dakota is geographically center not only in the United States but North America, making it a convenient, neutral site that borders Canada and is removed from large population centers. In fact, North Dakota, with its small population base, has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the United States. Basing the Stanley Cup playoffs in a state without an NHL, AHL, or ECHL team helps foster a sense of neutrality, and playing the games without crowds even further builds up that neutrality between the NHL teams when they take the ice against each other.
What does this playoff scenario have in store for teams such as Devils?
Without finishing out the regular season, many pundits have called for a full “March Madness” type of tournament where all 31 NHL teams get a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
Maybe the top one or two teams in each division receive a first-round bye or a seeding against teams sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings; fairness dictates that in this season where nothing is “normal” anymore means any team has a shot at winning the Cup.
Yes, teams such as the Bruins have the top regular-season record, and yes, if the season was declared officially over in all fairness, the Bruins should receive the Stanley Cup.
However, to give each team a chance at revitalizing what’s left of a historically catastrophic season means creating a March Madness type of tournament where the top teams still have to go in and win their games to advance.
This type of playoff may not be inherently fair to teams with great regular-season records to date, but let’s face it-this season has not been fair to any organization, any player, or any hockey fan for that matter. The only way to end this season is to let each team have a chance at advancing in a playoff tournament, and the last team standing wins it all.
The Devils could be that team as their level of play towards the end of the season was improving, and maybe they started to peak at the right moment.
The alternative to a playoff tournament in a neutral place like North Dakota is simply to declare a winner and write off the season, leaving teams and fans alike with a bitter taste of uncertainty.
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