clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is NHL’s return-to-play format bad? Maybe. Who cares?

New, comments

Let’s just watch some damn hockey, if it happens.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

I was not expecting to see another game from the Blackhawks this season.

Sitting six points of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 10 games left seemed too steep of a hill to climb to snap Chicago’s brief playoff drought, and the halting of sports in mid-March suggested the NHL’s 2019-20 regular season would never be completed.

Then a worldwide pandemic halted every sport across the world and, now, the Blackhawks are a playoff* team.

(*An argument could be made the Blackhawks aren’t a playoff team yet, that they have to win a best-of-five qualifying round series against the Oilers to earn that honor. I want you to know, dear reader, I could not possibly care any less about this distinction. Who gives a damn about sports semantics in a pandemic?)

Let’s not forget the Blackhawks team we watched for 70 games during the ‘19-20 regular season was riddled with flaws. It suffered from significant lapses in defensive zone coverage and lacked scoring punch lacking from its depth lines. Alex DeBrincat was mired in a season-long slump, part of the reason why Chicago’s power play continued its years-long trend of aggravating its fan base. The penalty kill was good, though, so there’s that.

Maybe this team didn’t deserve a shot at the playoffs. Maybe its chronic faults during the regular season, which left it outside of the playoff picture after about 85 percent of its games played, were reason enough to end this campaign after 70 games. A similar argument could be made for the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference, a franchise with similar Original Six status whose presence in this format suggests the NHL’s motivations may have been financial as well as equitable.

But I’m here to tell you: I don’t care.

No, in the midst of the most unsettling and uncertain era of my lifetime — a feeling likely shared by the overwhelming majority of people who’ll read these words — I cannot find the words to express how little the idea of “fair” matters to me when the topic being discussed is something as trivial as professional sports.

These are games played by people who I’ll likely never meet, let alone get to know on a personal level, and who are competing for a fancy piece of silverware that we all hold in the highest of esteem despite it being absolutely worthless to those unknowing of its traditions. That’s the truth of sports: it means everything to those who are inside the bubble and precisely nothing to those on the outside.

For those of us on the inside of that bubble, this format can be a welcome distraction as the world around us continues to spin out of control, with the pandemic’s death toll approaching 100,000 in the United States and moving past 350,000 worldwide as of this writing.

If there was ever a time to let go of all the obnoxious posturing and boring minutia we used to entertain regarding professional sports, this is that time. Spare me your diatribes on worthiness of the teams involved and miss me with your assertions about which franchises do or do not belong in this tournament.

I can admit bias on my part, as this format provides an unexpected glimmer of a hope for my favorite team. However, I’d add this thought for those griping about this expanded field:

If teams like the Oilers and Penguins can’t win a best-of-five series against seriously flawed teams like the Blackhawks and Canadiens, then they weren’t going far in any playoff format.

In some strange fashion yet to be officially determined, we might be getting hockey back for a while. We might have something else to yell about on Twitter as opposed to discussing the ramifications of a devastating worldwide illness. For a few hours at a time, we’d be able to immerse ourselves inside the blissful bubble where the only thing that matters is how many times one group of guys can guide a chunk of rubber into a designated area more often than the other guys.

Just enjoy the damn games. If we get them.