Are we going to look back on the 2020-21 NHL season with scrutiny?
Nothing brings hockey fans more joy than having hockey on every single night for the whole season, but even the most casual fans can admit that the 2020-21 NHL season doesn’t feel like a normal year. While Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league formulated an incredible format for the regular-season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s led to certain anomalies that certainly wouldn’t happen during a typical 82-game season.
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Downsized to just 56-games, the league implemented a way for teams to minimize contact and the potential spread of the infamous COVID-19 virus while still providing some satisfying competition for the fans. Rather than your typical NHL schedule where a team would play the other 30 adversaries throughout the year, they are playing each team in their division eight times. On top of this, divisions have been restructured for 2020-21 alone, leaving an Eastern, Central, Western and Northern division.
While this has led to rivalries escalating and reaching a boiling point like never before, it’s also led to some aforementioned anomalies that leave us wondering whether the 2020-21 NHL season will have an asterisk next to it?
This same question first arose last season in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when teams were introduced to a 24-team postseason format played inside two Bubble Cities in Canada, featuring a Play-In Round to determine the final 16 teams.
However, as we all now know, no team in the history of the NHL had to play harder and deal with more adversity than the Tampa Bay Lightning as they went from playing their normal regular-season preparing for a Playoff run to a three-month halt to then being forced to duke it out in the ultimate battle for the Stanley Cup.
Breaking down why the 2020-21 NHL season will have an asterisk next to it.
One of the biggest issues that the 2020-21 NHL season is facing is stat-padding, particularly in the North Division. Sure, watching the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers duke it out 10 times in one year is very entertaining, but watching the Toronto Maple Leafs manhandle the Ottawa Senators is far from it and the layout of this schedule has led to significant differentials in scoring. For example, of the top-five leaders in points, Patrick Kane, who ranks third with 42 points (12 G, 30 A), is the only player who does not play in the Northern Division.
Furthermore, of the top-10 goalscorers in the NHL, seven of which are from the North, while Alex DeBrincat (No. 6), Chris Kreider (No. 9), and Steven Stamkos (No. 10) are not. Looking at this alone shows that something isn’t right. Where is Alex Ovechkin or David Pastrnak? Again, because of this division alignment, it’s left teams like Toronto taking advantage of Vancouver and Ottawa, while the Capitals and Bruins have to play the best teams in the NHL seven times each.
It doesn’t take a mastermind to notice how lopsided these scores are. When you compare all of the teams per division, the highest-scoring is the Central, as all eight teams total 681 goals scored. Meanwhile, the second-highest scoring is the North, as they total for 664 goals scored, but they’re the only division in the NHL with seven teams as the others have eight. As for the lowest-scoring, the East has combined for 655 goals and the West 651 goals, despite the fact that the East Division is the most dominant of the four when looking at the teams in the division.
The reason why Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could easily tally 100 points each is because they face the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks seven times each, and they’ve allowed 130 and 104 goals against respectively. Goalies alone are suffering the most, as Semyon Varlamov of the New York Islanders is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, while Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets is having one of his worst seasons in the NHL.
Apart from scoring though, one of the most significant differences that makes the 2020-21 NHL season have an asterisk is the postseason format. Unlike anything the NHL has seen in recent memory, in the upcoming postseason after each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams will be re-seeded. In other words, there’s no longer an East vs. West matchup that formulates the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, it is just the best teams competing for the greatest prize in all of sports.
Because the first seeding is based on divisional standings, four teams from each division will make the Playoffs, but when you compare the four, it’s simply outrageous. Because of this format, it allows a team such as the Calgary Flames or Los Angeles Kings to advance to the postseason, while an elite team like the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders or the Pittsburgh Penguins from the East will have to sit out and have an early summer. Even if you were to take this point alone, it’s enough to argue that the 2020-21 NHL season deserves to have an asterisk next to it.