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McGuire Wire – August 1 – HOCKEY IS BACK!

Saturday, August 1st
McGuire Wire – August 1 – HOCKEY IS BACK!

McGuire Wire – August 1 – HOCKEY IS BACK!

Hey Railers fans, Cam McGuire here checking in for another McGuire Wire and it’s official hockey is back!!

Well, it’s been 143 days since we saw the last real hockey game being played. The NHL is back and I have to say that I am really impressed with how the league has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and the return to play. Well the NHL will officially return to play today (Saturday August 1) but teams have been at training camps in their respective cities the last couple of weeks and had a chance to participate in exhibition games this week in their hub cities. I’ll breakdown some of the details for you with the return to play including who is participating, how the format is set up, and my three takeaways from watching the exhibition games.

Timeline of Return to Play

After a lengthy discussion about where to place the hub cities it was determined on July 10 that Toronto would host the eastern conference and Edmonton would host the western conference. Las Vegas and Vancouver were also considered finalists for the hub cities.

Most of the teams arrived in their hub cities either this past Sunday with a lot of uncertainty when they will be able to see their friends and families again depending on how deep they make it into the playoffs. Per nhl.nbcsports.com see below for key return to play dates.

July 13: Training camps openJuly 26: Teams report to hub cityJuly 28-30: Exhibition gamesAugust 1: Stanley Cup Qualifiers beginAugust 11: First Round beginsAugust 25: Second Round begins.September 8: Conference Finals beginSeptember 22: Stanley Cup Final beginsOctober 4: Last Day for Stanley Cup

Players know it may be a while before they see their friends and families again, depending on how deep they make it into the playoffs. If a team makes it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, that will mean they could potentially be in their hub city for 70 days. That’s a long time to be gone from home, especially for guys with young kids. If you ask any of them though, I’m sure they would agree that the time away from home is worth it for a chance to say “I’m a Stanley Cup Champion!”

 

Playoff Format

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scratching my head when the NHL first rolled out the format for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but after closer examination, I think I nailed it down!

The “qualifying round,” a best-of-five series, starts today. See below for the teams/matchups that will be participating in the qualifying round.

Qualifying Rounds

Starting today is what is considered the “qualifying rounds”. The “qualifying round,” a best-of-five series, starts today. See below for the teams/matchups that will be participating in the qualifying round.

Eastern Conference

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Now you are probably wondering, “what happened to the first four seeds?” Let me explain. The top four seeds from the Eastern and Western Conference will play a round robin series to determine seeding the for the first round, while the other teams play their qualifying rounds. It’s important to note that these eight teams are already guaranteed a spot in Round 1… they are simply playing for the best Round 1 seeding. See below for a list of teams participating in the round robin:

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay LightningWashington CapitalsBoston BruinsPhiladelphia Flyers

Western Conference

Colorado AvalancheSt. Louis BluesVegas Golden KnightsDallas Stars

Click HERE for the full schedule of the qualifying rounds as well as the round robins.

Cam’s Three Takeaways From the Exhibition Games

This week was great given the fact that we had live hockey back playing and on tv. I will admit that I did not watch every game but I would say that I watched at least six of the exhibition games and I was very impressed with the production behind the broadcasts as well as the product on the ice so I’ve broken it down into my three takeaways from the exhibition games.

Takeaway #1: Cut these guys some slack!

I’ve seen people on the internet with varying opinions; some are happy with the play on the ice and some are not. Those that aren’t happy with the product on the ice note that the play is too sloppy. I argue that is understandable. If you are out of your job for 100+ days, you would probably have some rust to knock off when you return. Given the fact that these players have not played in a game setting against another team in about 140 days, I was actually particularly impressed with the pace of play. One example of this is the blazing speed from the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon (Click HERE to watch). Or, how about the Washington Capitals who took down the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 behind two goals from the Great 8 Alexander Ovechkin? For those of you that think it was like pond hockey out there with a lack of physicality, you must’ve missed the Battle of Alberta on Tuesday night between Calgary and Edmonton, or the fights between Brian Boyle vs. Mikhail Sergachev or Johnny Boychuk vs. Brendan Lemieux… just to name a few. Overall, after watching the exhibition games, I was very impressed with the product on the ice and only think it is going to get better as the playoffs go on.

Takeaway #2: From a Production Side

Photo: nhl.com

Most of the exhibition games were streamed on NHL Network, which means most of the broadcast feeds were being pulled in from regional broadcasts. One thing that stuck out particularly and especially when watching the games that were broadcasted on network television was the different camera angles. I’m someone that likes a bird’s eye view at a hockey game. The reason why I like being higher up is it allows you to follow the play more and try to understand some of the decisions that these players are making in a split second on the ice. Ever since I was a little kid, I was always fascinated with how plays developed and watching the game evolve. So, when the broadcast switches to the overhead angle, particularly the power-play, I think that it gives the normal fan a new perspective of the game and a very cool one at that. I believe that members of production teams are at an advantage and will thrive during these playoffs as they can try and test new engaging ways to interact with fans at home since no one is obviously at the games. The way that the NHL has set up the arena tarping off the stands and building visuals I think tops any other league so far (P.S. I’m not a fan of the virtual fans on the baseball broadcasts… cardboard fans are where I draw the line).

Takeaway #3: It’s Anyone’s Cup

Photo: NY Post

Now I’m not going to give you my predictions on who I think will take home the Stanley Cup or who will make a deep run into the playoffs, but I will tell you that I really think it’s anyone’s cup. At this point in the game, given the circumstances, I think that everyone is playing on a pretty even playing field. The thing that I’m most curious to watch during this year’s playoffs is the goaltending. Call me crazy, call me sane, but I think that the goaltenders are at the most disadvantage here. When I say that I mean that yes, goaltenders have obviously been facing shots in practice as well as exhibition games, but I think when you get into live game action it is a totally different scenario. Hey, Mike Myers are you out there… can you back me up on this or what? Perhaps the most intriguing goaltending position I’m looking forward to following is the saga that comes inside the trapezoid with the New York Rangers. Will it be the Rangers all-time leader in playoff wins Henrik Lundqvist or will they give the starting nod to one of their youngsters in Alexandar Georgiev or Igor Shesterkin? I guess time will tell… and I guess time will tell who will be crowned the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Champion in the – to say the least – unordinary year of 2020. But until then, we know that right now it’s anyone’s CUP!

Until next time, enjoy the hockey… so long.

-Cam

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