With a 4-3 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night, the Montreal Canadiens earned their first point after three straight regulation defeats and finally, finally crystallized the North Division playoff participants. Though it really did look like the Habs were going to continue to try and blow it, Artturi Lehkonen’s game-tying goal in the third was enough to mathematically eliminate Calgary from contention. This means that Montreal doesn’t have to freak out about earning a point against Edmonton in its last game. It means that the four games remaining for the Flames against the Canucks will have no impact on the postseason. And most importantly, it means that we now know for a fact all 16 teams who have punched their ticket to the playoffs.
“OK! Great! Very cool!” you might be saying. “Now let’s get this thing moving! It’s frickin’ May and I need my dang playoff hockey. When are we gonna get it?”
Well, that is unfortunately still a very complicated question. I can tell you that the Caps and the Bruins will be playing each other on Saturday night in what apparently is to be the first game of the 2021 playoffs, but literally everything else as far as dates and times remains a mystery. That’s because not only do we have a few more days of games to determine the answers to some seeding questions in a few of the divisions, but the logistics of this particular NHL postseason are making it a real headache for the league to try and plan these playoffs in a way that we’re all used to.
You heard of COVID-19? So, because of that virus, the NHL totally revamped its divisional setup this year, sequestering seven or eight teams for each of four geographical areas and not having any teams play outside their area. This format will continue until whatever you want to call the “Conference Finals” this year, where one surviving team from each division will play another for the right to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
This means that each division is its own little undisturbed ecosystem from the beginning of the season all the way until the third playoff round. The problem here is, again, COVID-related. Because several teams—most notably the Vancouver Canucks—dealt with virus issues that delayed games this season, the four separate division schedules all flew out of sync with each other. The Central Division, for example, is all wrapped up, while the West keeps going through Thursday, and the North runs all the way until frickin’ May 19.
But here’s the thing about the North, which comprises the Canadian teams. None of the games after Friday even feature teams that can improve their playoff position right now! It’s almost exclusively just the Flames and the Canucks getting on the ice to fulfill TV obligations before they both go spend the summer golfing in the Okanagan. It’s a ridiculous charade that they’ll even be playing so long after everybody else has finished up, like they’re rowdy kids stuck in detention or something, but even if you accept those games as a financial necessity, there’s no reason they should interfere with the playoffs.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly believes otherwise:
“Our current expectation is that we’ll play out the regular season and that the playoffs in the North Division will not officially start until after the conclusion of regular-season games in that division,” Daly said Monday. “I would assume that would be very soon thereafter. It could be the same day.”
Whyyyyyy? Why would you find it necessary to do this? Why would you delay the start of Leafs-Habs and Jets-Oilers for at least four days literally just so a few hundred thousand degenerates in B.C. and lower Alberta can see a meaningless battle for fifth place?
Better yet, why wait at all? We know the teams. We know the format. Screw the last few games. To hell with the minute scraps for seeding. Let’s just get these playoff started immediately. Noon eastern today. Yes, in like a half-hour from now. Drop the dang puck. Let’s get it going.