Ramblings: NHL’s Return to Play; injured players; Kaprizov; Bjugstad surgery – May 28

Michael Clifford

2020-05-28

Gary Bettman had a virtual press conference on Tuesday to announce parts of the NHL's Return to Play plan. Readers can head to NHL.com to read up on the playoff format, the draft lottery, and a few other details about the RTP.

Anyone who has read my Ramblings knows where I stand on this. I don't trust the NHL to keep strict control of safety and I don't trust the players/coaching staffs to be honest about self-administering wellness checks. Patrice Bergeron played with a punctured lung. Is he going to sit out the Cup Finals because his temperature is 99.2 some morning? I hope so, but the entirety of NHL history tells a different story. The 24-team format is also equally dumb for myriad reasons.

All that said, there's nothing that can be done about it. The NHL will do what the NHL wants to do. They can say it's not about economics – Bettman actually said this, and then finished the exact same thought with "the revenue situation is painful," so it's pretty obvious what the reason is. This will be the last I talk about it in these Ramblings, though. You can't fight the wind.

So, let's talk about these playoffs.

I've mentioned in a prior Ramblings about how almost every team will be completely healthy for playoffs, something that never happens. That means Pittsburgh gets Jake Guentzel back, Vladimir Tarasenko will be ready for the postseason, Colorado can reunite MacKinnon with Mikko Rantanen, and Dougie Hamilton will be patrolling Carolina's blue line once more.

Just anecdotally, I think of any single player returning, Hamilton is the most important to his team. All of Guentzel, Rantanen, and Tarasenko are all-stars, of that there is no doubt. But Hamilton was literally one of the best defencemen in the league this year; per Evolving Hockey, he was fifth in the league in WAR/60 minutes among blue liners in 2019-20. When looking at the rest of the blue line, it was basically Jaccob Slavin who had a very good year and that's it. Jake Gardiner was a shell of his former self, they traded Justin Faulk, and Brett Pesce was having a rough season before season-ending shoulder surgery in early March. (By the way, his initial timeline was 4-6 months, and four months would put a return at the start of July. The Hurricanes will not only get Hamilton back, but also possibly Pesce. That would be huge.) Without Pesce or Hamilton, the Hurricanes would have been heading into the playoffs without two of their top-3 defencemen. Now, there's a chance all three will be in the lineup. I know Carolina has a gripe about having to play the Rangers, but I wonder about their Cup chances with Hamilton/Pesce out of the lineup in a normal year, and their Cup chances with them but with an extra round of play involved.

Anyway, just getting Hamilton back is monstrous. Had he stayed healthy, he would have been in the running for the Norris Trophy this year. The extra round of action sucks, but it should at least be exciting, and now they're fully loaded for a run.

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With all this going on, it appears the earliest the NHL will start its 2020-21 season is sometime in early December. That would mean all the teams that aren't part of the play-ins would go from the second week of March to sometime in December without playing. Something needs to be done about that. You can't have seven teams sit out for nine months.

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Once the NHL returns, one thing I'm kind of interested to see: do the referees actually enforce no post-whistle scrums? Post-whistle scrums are basically the emblem of the NHL playoffs, and it's probably just a natural reaction by players at this point. Are referees actually going to penalize players who do this? Will it actually be a rule? Can't wait to see the results of this.

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One piece of actual news: the Penguins will be without Nick Bjugstad whenever the season resumes. He underwent surgery on a herniated disc and is expected to be out a minimum of eight weeks. We’ll see when the season actually restarts because it seems eight weeks would be the absolute earliest. Hopefully he can return.

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A second piece of possible news: Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov looks like he'll be staying with CSKA Moscow for another season, according to a report from NHL.com writer Pavel Lysenkov. Kaprizov was drafted five years ago (!) and has yet to suit up for the Wild.

Whether he actually takes another year, we'll see. Given the uncertainty just about everywhere, though, not wanting to leave home makes sense. It wouldn't be easy to leave home to travel halfway around the world in the middle of a pandemic, leaving everyone you know behind. Maybe another year, Wild fans.

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I've been consuming some of the NHL content during the pause, namely the esports contests. They have been playing NHL '20 games among teammates, teams, and media personalities, as well as a Fortnite contest. One thing that caught me watching these things: how entertaining players can be when they're not giving canned answers.

I think the NHL needs to capitalize here somehow. NHL players are boring as dirt. Sorry, it needs to be said. There are maybe a half-dozen guys we can rely on for earnest quotes (Pastrnak and Laine come to mind), but it's almost exclusively "pucks in deep"-type answers given to the media and the fans. It's just awful. There's nothing to be gleaned from the vast majority of player interviews.

When they're not scripted, though? When it's just them and a game? They're a bit more honest. We saw that with Mitch Marner discussing the RTP, John Carlson playing with some media guys from CBS, and so on. It's a vast improvement because the bar is so low.

How they could work this in is uncertain. The problem with media interviews is they suspiciously seem like media interviews. Rather, we need players speaking candidly. I'm not sure how to accomplish this, but it would make the off-ice marketing a lot easier.

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I've gotten a couple emails/DMs about what to do with regards to payouts in fantasy leagues. I've written about it before but now that things are final, let's go into it again.

I can just say what I'm doing in my leagues.

I have one league where 6/12 teams made H2H playoffs, with the top two teams on a bye. We were in the middle of our first week at the pause. We're just dividing the pot six ways. The guys with the bye realize these are absolutely ludicrous circumstances to be dealing with. They're fine with it. I'm glad to be in a league with reasonable people like this, because I know most aren't. Might I suggest a sliding scale, in an instance like this? With six playoff teams, say 25-25-15-15-10-10 for percentages?

In a second league, which is a points league, we're just doing points/games played to figure out standings. That seems pretty reasonable.

Those would be my two answers:

  • In H2H leagues, divide the pot evenly, or a sliding scale if a fuss is put up, by however many teams remaining in playoffs.
  • In every other type of league, do points/games played.

People have to be reasonable here. Nothing about any of this is really fair. There shouldn't be 40 emails to settle a fantasy league during a *[email protected])#&$ pandemic. What I'm getting at is this is also a good time to restructure your leagues and get rid of the people you've been meaning to yeet from your league for years now.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency NSH Players
24.2% MATT DUCHENE FILIP FORSBERG MIKAEL GRANLUND
20.8% NICK BONINO ROCCO GRIMALDI CRAIG SMITH
12.7% VIKTOR ARVIDSSON RYAN JOHANSEN COLTON SISSONS

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