Still a lot of unknowns

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There’s a flaw in the NHL’s plan when it comes to resuming play in just one week’s time.

Yes, fans will get a chance to see the best hockey imaginable. All teams are healthy; players who have been out of action for many months are going to be X-Factors in hoping their team can ride a wave of momentum to the Stanley Cup.

When all is said and done, there will be a rightful recipient to Lord Stanley’s grail. But I’d caution you to temper expectations on the level of competition, at least for the first few games.

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Let’s take the round-robin games for example. You have the top four teams in each conference battling it out for seeding in the round of 16 that will eventually determine this season’s champion. Those three games could go a long way in determining a team’s path throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But that’s just it: Those three games are going to be the only warmups a team has before we get down to brass tacks. The NHL has implemented one exhibition game for each team prior to either the round-robin format, or their best-of-5 Stanley Cup qualifying series. So, in theory, you have one dress rehearsal before the bright lights are on you.

Thankfully for the round-robin teams, they can treat those three games as warmups if need be. Ideally, that’s not the best course of action. Tiebreakers are decided by points percentage in the regular season, so if the Vegas Golden Knights for example want any part in being the top seed in the Western Conference, they would need to win at least two of the games against the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues or Colorado Avalanche.

For teams playing in the best-of-5, you’re going to need to be playing your best hockey right off the bat. Sure, the consolation prize for losing is a realistic puncher’s chance at drafting Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft; that in of itself is already a terrible incentive to watch these qualifying rounds proceed. But for a team with hopes and aspirations of making it to the field of 16 — a team that doesn’t get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs often — there’s no room for error.

Take that thought into account when you’re going to the sportsbooks or logging on to your phone apps and placing your bets on these games. It would make all the sense in the world to bet the favorites in the qualifying round; but will the Pittsburgh Penguins be at their best knowing Sidney Crosby has missed a couple of practices and his status continues to be a mystery?

The NHL’s approach to injuries during this Return to Play Plan is also going to be a key in approaching this. Teams are not permitted under this plan to disclose any type of injury or illness. Crosby could have a broken leg, for all we know, and coach Mike Sullivan isn’t going to say anything and just deem him “unfit to play.”

It’s a fine line to walk when analyzing these matchups. There are too many incentives and factors to take into account that will not make betting any easier. Also given the fact there’s no true home-ice advantage, you’re likely going to see more action on the underdogs and lower seeds than favorites. Some lines might even be separated by a couple of bucks. We’re going through unchartered waters here.

With only one dress rehearsal of an exhibition game, imagine if one of those round-robin teams looks horrible in that game. How does one approach that team going forward? You really can’t. Could you imagine the original cast of Hamilton having only one dress rehearsal before putting on a show in front of the biggest crowd possible in New York?

Talk about throwing away your shot. You can’t in this situation. Teams will need to make it count.

About the Author
Danny Webster

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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