All’s well that ends well

Having sat in the press box in 2018 when the Washington Capitals were awarded the Stanley Cup, even for a road crowd, there’s no feeling like watching a live crowd react to the awarding of a championship.

When the clock ended on the NHL season Monday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning mobbed goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy as one team does to celebrate a Stanley Cup victory, it felt anticlimactic. If a champion is crowned, but no one was there to see it, did it happen?

The NBC feed showed that it was real, but it was beyond comprehension. The Lightning won 2-0 in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars to win their second championship in franchise history, culminating in a bubble trip that lasted over 60 days and put a bow on this postseason that we hope to never see again.

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A global pandemic rocked the sports world with no fathomable idea of when we’d actually see hockey again. The NHL administered 33,174 COVID-19 tests over the course of two months, all coming back negative, and the league did what it promised to do nearly one year since the NHL season began; award the Stanley Cup.

It almost feels surreal that the season has ended. Just two months ago, the excitement of having hockey back grew. The level of play in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles did not disappoint and were a great reprieve from the sadness of not watching games live.

This was one of the weirder stretches of hockey ever witnessed, and for the sake of everyone involved, let’s hope that it never comes to this again; not even just for pandemic purposes, but even the idea of a bubble for however many months has no likely appeal.

Now, the season is over, free agency and the NHL Draft are upon us with the hope of next season getting underway. Whenever that is, however, remains to be seen.

Here’s what we know: The NHL still wants to proceed with a full 82-game slate for the 2020-21 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman has not balked from that stance, and the hope for the league is to still finish a season by June and proceed with 2021-22 on time with the optimism that the Seattle Kraken start on time.

TSN reported Monday that the NHL is planning on a “hybrid bubble” that includes between four and six different bubbles, preferably in cities that have allowed fans in arenas. In a perfect world, that sounds like an ideal start; to at least get some fans in the building and take the necessary steps until all 31 arenas can hold some sort of audience capacity.

This hybrid bubble concept that TSN notes involves teams being in a bubble for two weeks, and then returning home for one week to be with their families. When the NHL starts with this is key because of when it needs to end; the 2021 Summer Olympics are slated to start in late June and there won’t be any budging from NBC on how to carry coverage between the Olympics and the Stanley Cup Final.

That likely means more back-to-backs in the playoffs, which means more taxing on the body for a hopeful 82-game season and however many games they can squeeze in for what would likely be a regular 16-team playoff format. If the NHL is asking its players to go through another round of taxing hockey and continuous tests of the mental resolve, it better have a more ideal plan in place on how to go about this.

Even if the NHL plans to start the new season in late December or early January, there’s not a lot of time to put together a comprehensive offseason that makes sense and still play 82 games between then and June. It’s a risky proposition that seems too good to be true.

But for now, the NHL should be commended for what it has accomplished. It was not an easy thing to pull off, and it will be even harder to pull off next year under looser circumstances.

Until next time. Whenever that may be.

Last week: 0-1

Season:  41-41