May 26th we discovered the NHL’s plan to move forward with a challenging and unprecedented season. Now over 2 months since a very powerful pandemic put play and practice on hold, we will have a Stanley Cup playoff and winner! We’ve now learned a vote took place last week among those in charge, the plan now set with 24 teams moving to cup contention, scrapping the final games of the regular 2019-2020 season. The result is a very different Stanley Cup than normal, however, a Stanley Cup my readers and I are grateful to have! The fan’s have supported these teams all season, and even with no fans present, the players and coaches more than deserve a finally to their work. Especially the many Columbus Blue Jackets who sacrificed their bodies, taking on some brutal injuries, many just weeks before practice and play were suspended! If there is any silver lining from this, it is how many players who were written off for the conclusion of the season, like Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Cam Atkinson, will return for this playoff tournament. All able to recover, as the world created safeguards and testing for the pandemic.
We can not forget though, this is the plan for Summer 2020, there is no set date to start this 24 team playoff, just guidelines on how it will be done. Wit the death total in the United States over 100,000 people, it is important to move forward with safety and caution in mind, for staff, players, and their families. With that being said, the 24 teams will be divided into 2 major hub cities, these are still to be determined. One hub will reside in the west and the other in the east of the country, with 12 teams playing in each. The qualifying teams were determined by their point percentage in each conference, those with the highest get to hit the ice for battle, taking part in a Stanley Cup the likes we’ve never seen. It is also worth mentioning Columbus is one of the 10 finalist areas being considered as a hub. Due to our many ice rink arena’s for play and practice, along with reliable transportation and hotels, we are a strong contender as the East Playoff Hub.
We also know when this is all ready, the Columbus Blue Jackets will face the Toronto Maple Leaves. A team we had played twice prior in the regular season, each team winning 1 each, making this a tiebreaker with it all on the line! The plan is to have the top 4 teams in each hub play for their seed, as they have already qualified to play for the cup. The remaining 8 teams will duke it out against set teams in their conference, the best in 5 games will win their way to the top 16, where they will begin to play for round 1 in the 2020 Stanley Cup.
Before any of this can happen though, players must get back into shape, many of them at home during this time. The NHL has created phases in regards to expand the leaps forward regarding return to play, in the 1st players were as to quarantine, no matter where in the world they went during the season pause. Phase 2 in the NHL moving forward involves letting a minimum number of players, no more than six, in a facility at once. Practice skating can happen but is a strict no-contact situation, while gyms are open, but with strict distancing taking place of at least 6 feet. Testing will be required of all players, and the open skating will be closed to everyone including coaching and staff. If all safety guidelines can be followed and phase 2 goes off without a hitch, the next step is to move forward with training camps. All of this has to happen before the 24 team road to the playoff picture above can occur.
All in all, it’s still a long skate before hockey, even at a fraction of normalcy will reeturn; however, this is a skate in the right direction. The commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear, the process will only move forward if the safety and well-being of everyone involved is upheld, from those playing the game to those testing them. With that being said though this is closer than we have been since March to hockey returning in Columbus and throughout the nation. I will continue to provide updates as we move forward, together we are the 5th line, and although it may not be the same, we will support our players more than ever before. Wherever our team goes, our hearts beat as one, blue-red-and silver!