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Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure if this Stanley Cup will mean more, but it definitely won’t mean less

I’ll preface this by saying the NHL is right now in midst of what I think is the most crucial period of this potential restart, and if they mess it up, everything goes to pot. The ongoing training camps all over North America should make people uneasy about what could happen in the next two weeks, especially considering some of the extreme hot spots in the southern States. Why this stage of the league’s attempt to get back on its feet wasn’t centered in the two hub cities as well, I’ll never know. But this is where we are, and all we can do is hope everyone gets into their bubbles safe and hassle-free. From there I think things get easier.

The league has been on shutdown so long I almost forget what it’s like to argue about sports, but one constant discussion point that’s circled this potential restart is whether or not this upcoming playoff will be “legit” for lack of a better term. In other words, will there be an asterisk next to the Cup winner due to these strange circumstances? Is it going to be taken as seriously by fans? How will the players feel?

There’s a lot about the feel of this new format that can’t be answered until the games are being played, but I think as far as asterisks go, this upcoming Cup winner will be far from that conversation. If anything, the mountain to climb in this year’s playoffs is more daunting than any other to this point in the league’s history. For some teams that could look like 19 wins to get there, and others with the so-called bye through the play-in still have to play each other, the best in the conference, before the normal slog. It might not look the same at the end, but I can bet whoever lifts the Cup will feel the battles the same way anyone in the past has.

And then there’s just the feel of it. 24 teams descending on two cities, hunkered in a focused area, all of them ready to just go to it. The closest thing to this type of setup has been the Olympics, and you have to think that, lack of fans physically in the building aside, the way we follow along with this could have some of the same feel — I’m okay with that. Our experience with absorbing these playoffs will be different for the obvious reason of we’re still trying to navigate through a pandemic and do everything around that in our daily lives, but in terms of the NHL’s product itself, things are going to be weirdly fun and as well. Besides the on-ice presentation, which could have new projected fan reactions on the ice or in the glass, innovative angles and tracking, and any other bells and whistles the league might want to try, a centrally located playoffs like this is going to be something to behold with the way we follow along through the social media channels as well. We’re already seeing a little of that with the way the players are interacting with social channels while in this mini training camp.

But with all that said, this restart still hinges primarily on one thing: The quality of the hockey. I can say that there’s just as much merit in winning this Cup than any other, and having win 16 or even 19 games to do that ensures that level of difficulty is there. But if the feel isn’t right, if this doesn’t look like real playoff hockey, if it’s sloppy and disjointed, everyone’s going to be disappointed. And doubt about what this all means will understandably creep in. That’s the biggest unknown at this point, and it’s perhaps not so big at all. Put me in the camp of thinking if everything else facilitating this return be executed properly and safely, the excitement about the on-ice portion will take of itself.