NHL: Hockey Lays Out Return With Hawks In Playoff Mix

By Sidney Brown (@sidkid80)

Here Come The Hawks, the Mighty Blackhawks…well, sort of. 

Following the announcement Tuesday that the National Hockey League has figured out a plan to resume its 2019-20 season, there’s reason to celebrate if you’re a Chicago Blackhawks fan because your team just sneaked into the playoffs.

As a No. 12 seed, the lowest in the Western Conference and a typically non-existent seed in any other playoff season, the Hawks are expected to participate in a special 24-team tournament, expected to be held in two host cities, that will determine this year’s recipient of the Stanley Cup. 

With a season punctuated by injuries to key players, a head coach on the hot seat and a president of hockey operations who was fired during the season’s pause due to the Covid-19 epidemic, the Hawks are an unlikely postseason team, to say the least. Still, for the first time since 2017, Chicago has a chance to play for it all and in the process redeem itself after an overall forgettable regular season.

Technically, the team is playing in a play-in round to officially set the Western Conference side of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but according to the plans laid out by commissioner Gary Bettman, they will have to win a best-of-five series to do so. It will be real and it looks like it will have to be done against Edmonton, who the Hawks have beaten two out of three times this season, including by a score of 4-3 on March 5.

As far as the overall layout of the postseason goes: the top four teams in each conference will play a round robin round for seeding while the eight remaining teams will battle for the last four spots. The historic tournament is being looked at to drop the first puck in late July with the exact dates and sites to be determined. The official playoffs would start in August with a champion expected to be crowned in mid-September.

Western Conference

Top Four Teams: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars

1st Round Matchups (Best of 5): Edmonton (5) vs. HAWKS (12), Nashville (6) vs. Arizona (11), Vancouver (7) vs. Minnesota (10) and Calgary (8) vs. Winnipeg (9).

Eastern Conference

Top Four: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

1st Round Matchups (Best of 5): Pittsburgh (5) vs. Montreal (12), Carolina (6) vs. New York Rangers (11), N.Y. Islanders (7) vs. Florida (10) and Toronto (8) vs. Columbus (9).

Given the overall thirst for major league pro sports in America at the moment, this historic tournament should and will raise interest back in the NHL. Helping a great deal is the fact that big market teams would compete, including those in Chicago, Boston, New York (Rangers and Islanders), Washington and Philadelphia to name a few. It would help even more if one of those top cities served as one of the playoff hubs.

Maybe the other hub could be the home of one of the traditional Canadian teams rounding out the postseason competition, among them Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Winnipeg. 

Ranking the Eight Qualifying Round Matchups for Stanley Cup Playoffs (SI.com)

Along with potential big-city ratings, you need superstars to sell your sport at this crucial time and this tournament should raise or remind folks of the profiles of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos and Johnny Gaudreau. The only downside to this will be the “no fans” edict that the ongoing spread of Coronavirus forces to make necessary.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs is considered by many sports fans to be the best playoffs among the four major sports because of the near-equal chances of the teams to have success along with of the typically electric atmospheres generated by passionate fans across the league. 

Credit: Sportsnet/Rogers Media

Without those fans its worth questioning will the excitement from the players only generate something on the television screen that’s worth watching? Who knows at this point, but the ratings should be high off the bat because of curiosity and a raised competition level from the players due to knowing that they’re playing for something.

Do the Hawks have a chance to shock the world? In a best of five series, yes, you can say so. With the desire to play after a long layoff and the potential craziness of this tournament, there’s always a chance.

What will this tournament bring? Which team will catch fire? Who will be the breakout stars? Will we see upsets like never before? This hockey experiment will go a long way in determining not only who’s a winner in 2020 but also in establishing possible changes to the sport in the near future.

Sidney Brown covers the Chicago Blackhawks for WARR

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