It would be nice if this NHL North Division wasn’t just some pandemic blip.
There is a case — through ratings and interest, which count for a lot — to keep it this way even after borders reopen and the coronavirus is finally in the rear-view mirror. The travel, of course, would be difficult and the structure eventually would have to fit into a much heavier schedule than the 56-game edition.
And of course, once fans are allowed to fill the stands again, there is going to be a clamour to ensure every marquee player visits each city at least once. Though this year raises an interesting debate: would you still rather see your team face Connor McDavid nine or 10 times a season knowing you won’t see Crosby and Ovechkin at all?
No matter what, this should be one of, if not the most interesting playoff races in league history.
The Maple Leafs proved in the last two weeks that you can go from far and away in first place to clinging to it for dear life. It used to be impossible to make up four to six points in the standings with all the overtime bonuses, but now, you get a lot more chances to beat the teams in front of you
In the West, Minnesota’s rise will make for a tremendous battle down the stretch with teams like the Kings and Coyotes in hot pursuit of a berth.
“With this shortened season and playing the same teams over and over and over again, they’re big games,” Arizona forward and former Elgin-Middlesex Chief Lawson Crouse told NHL reporters on the weekend. “Coming into this second half, we’ve got to beat these teams if we want a chance at a playoff spot.”
And if you don’t, you’re out.
ENOUGH RECOVERY?: It’s easy to say there should be no distractions for professional athletes, but routines and comfort levels are being trampled on a daily basis.
The virus is still out there. Unlike a broken leg or arm, no one can really say for sure how long the effects will linger.
Travis Konecny endured a difficult battle with COVID-19 and hadn’t even practised before being re-inserted into the Flyers’ lineup.
“I definitely feel a little out of it,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer after a recent loss to Pittsburgh.
The former Chief has looked more true to form in recent games.
But it underlines that management of illness and injury, always a concern, is at another level right now. It’s going to be the reason some teams make the playoffs and others don’t.
AROUND THE PROS: Good thing Habs GM Marc Bergevin didn’t deal away Victor Mete. Ben Chiarot is out for the next six to eight weeks . . . The Maple Leafs’ loss Sunday was just the second time in six Ottawa meetings that Joe Thornton didn’t record a point. He played 12:28, the second-lowest ice time of his first Toronto season. It was fun to see coach Sheldon Keefe pull the goalie for an extra attacker with six-and-a-half minutes left. Dale Hunter does that every so often with the Knights . . . If Boone Jenner is a fourth-line centre as he has slotted in recently, then he is a pretty productive one. Not many in the game in the bottom six can better his eight-goal, 15-point half-season. His value, of course, goes well beyond offensive stats for the up-and-down Blue Jackets . . . Max Domi is starting to find his way and that’s a good sign for Columbus. He was pretty quiet for quite a while before some recent production . . . Former Knight David Bolland and wife Ekat just celebrated the birth of a son named Benjamin Ray. The middle name, of course, is a tribute to Bolland’s late Blackhawks teammate, Ray Emery . . . Leading point-getters so far among ex-Knights and local/area players by division: John Carlson (East), Patrick Kane (Central), Ryan O’Reilly (West), Mitch Marner (North) . . . O’Reilly is first in the NHL in faceoff wins and it’s not remotely close. Canucks captain Bo Horvat is second, Christian Dvorak is ninth and John Tavares is 11th . . . Drew Doughty has a chance to outscore Matthew Tkachuk this season. Heading into Monday, they were tied with 22 points each . . . Nikita Zadorov could be Top 5 in hits this year . . . Alex Formenton has three goals in nine games for the Belleville Senators. He scored 27 for them last year without one Ottawa call-up, long after making his NHL debut at 18. Now, he’s 21 and the NHL is tailor-made for his speed and skill set. When is he going to get another chance? . . . Greg McKegg has been shuttled around the Bruins, their taxi squad and American league affiliate Providence. When the 28-year-old suited up for Boston against the Rangers a few weeks ago, it marked the seventh NHL team he has skated for in his career . . . Former Elgin-Middlesex Chief and London National Drew Worrad is leading Western Michigan University in scoring with five goals and 23 points in 25 games. It’s his third NCAA season. Teammate Ty Glover is the highest-scoring freshman with the Broncos (five goals, 11 points in 24 games) . . . Marc Methot’s podcast with Brent Wallace is off to a pretty good start. It’s nice to see that framed Knights jersey over his right shoulder during it.