How will NHL teams prepare for what is going to be a weird Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020-21?
During the first intermission between the Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Oilers on Mar. 10, Wayne and Keith Gretzky joined Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek to remember the life of their late father Walter.
Wayne repeated one of his father’s famous lines. He said: “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail,” in the interview. You might have heard something like this from your parents before. Preparation is a recipe for success for anything that you are willing to do.
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Now I ask rhetorically, how do you prepare for something that you can only see halfway through? This is the tricky part and the world that NHL players currently live in right now. We’re just about halfway through the 2020-21 NHL season and as teams continue to fight for their Playoff hopes, there is still a lot to be determined. Let’s break it down.
As per CBS, when the NHL confirmed their 56-game season would begin Jan. 13, teams were placed in unique divisions for the year for safety concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We have the North Division with all the Canadian franchises.
We have the East Division with all the teams in neighbouring states from Pennsylvania all the way to Massachussetts. We have the Central Division, combined of teams from southeast United States to the heart of the country and the West Division with majority of the teams playing under the sun.
And with this came a new postseason format. The top four teams in each division account for the first two Rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The No. 1 seed would take on No. 4 and No. 2 would play No. 3. When it’s all said and done and a winner is crowned, the final four will be re-seeded based on their regular-season points totals and placed into a new 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 bracket.
How Do You Prepare For Something You Can Only See Half Way Through?
This entire format inexorably leads to numerous queries and concerns for any NHL club. Of course, these are internal. Teams will be prepared for the first two Rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs without a doubt. Playing the same teams you have already played many times throughout the regular-season is enough preparation to say the least.
It is as if you’ve practically become an expert on your opponent. If the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens in the first round (as it currently stands) or the Tampa Bay Lighting take on the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s safe to say these clubs will be well prepared for their matchups.
But this is where the “halfway” part comes into play. Teams will be well prepared for the first two Rounds of the postseason, but not the last two and for very good reasons. Whoever makes it out of each division has lots to worry about.
The first worry is, when the Final Four is formally announced, how will the NHL handle it? The league could return to a bubble format and players would be forced to sequester in hotel rooms in a city they don’t call home. To do that again could be detrimental to their Playoff chances just simply based on the environment, or it could be a moral booster knowing they don’t have to travel on airplanes and worry about constantly being tested for the virus. The NHL has not yet confirmed any information and time will only tell whether the league chooses to take this route or not.
On the other hand, the more prominent concern is how does a team in the Final Four prepare to face a team they have not played all year?
I’m sure teams will tirelessly watch video to make their own preparations. I’m also sure there will be practice sessions with new and improved game plans to counteract the oppositions adjustments. They’ll have an idea on how their opponent plays however, there will be a lot of on-the-fly adjustments being made. For instance, changing up lines, defensive pairings and power play units if things go wrong.
In essence, there isn’t a true way to fully prepare for this. Every team has been playing the same teams over and over again for the entirety of the regular-season. This doesn’t exactly prove how good a team really is. The true test for a team that seems on paper like a legitimate contender, comes in the final two Rounds of the postseason.
With that being said, I feel like the Final Four will be some of the most interesting and unexpected hockey that we’ve seen yet. If last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs was anyone’s for the taking (for lack of a better cliche), this year is anyone’s for the taking too. It would be tough to sweep your opponent when the time comes. We might be in for some hard-nosed hockey and some thrilling Game 7’s to add on to the drama and the gut-wrenching feelings that the postseason delivers year in and year out.