The NHL has played 85.1% (1,082) of this season’s 1,271 regular season games. Today, it seems unlikely the league will play the remaining 189 games. But will they play any of those games?
Does a 74-game season make sense? Many players have stated they prefer to play some games before skating directly into the playoffs. If the league returns July 1st, then players will have had 111 days between games. If the NHL doesn’t resume until August 1st, it will be 142 days between games.
Every year the NHL plays preseason games, to allow players to sharpen their skills, while young players have an opportunity to prove they are ready for the NHL.
The latter won’t be necessary when the 2019/2020 season resumes, but the former is still very much a reality. The league could jump directly to playoff games, but the games will be sloppy, despite the added intensity of the postseason.
I’d be all for playing 74 games, but I understand it isn’t easy. In a text conversation with a GM yesterday, it seems the 24-team playoff is gaining traction. Although the specifics on a “play-in” round or what it would look like exactly haven’t been determined.
Going off the premise 24 teams will be in the playoff picture, would it be necessary for the bottom seven to play enough games to reach 74? It would for the Buffalo Sabres, who are three points behind Montreal, with two games in hand. The Sabres would play five games, while the Habs would three. These two teams were scheduled to play each other twice more this season, including their next game.
The other six squads — New Jersey, Ottawa, Detroit, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose — don’t have a realistic shot at getting in. (I’m assuming NHL uses a cross over and Chicago becomes 12th team in the west.)
Would the NHL only have 25 teams return to reach 74 games? I doubt it. So either all 31 play, or the Sabres will get the short straw.
I’d love to see the regular season completed, more on that below, but I understand why it is unlikely. Time constraints and the COVID-19 landscape make completing the regular season non-essential.
I’d love a compromise and see a 74-game season for two reasons: It gives the players a few games to sharpen their skills for the playoffs, and it allows some players the opportunity to reach some important milestones.
Here are seven players whose stats will be impacted most by not completing the regular season.
1. Alex Ovechkin. The super sniper has 48 goals in 68 games. Imagine if he wasn’t suspended one game for sitting out the All-Star Game. Could he have scored twice against the Montreal Canadiens on January 27th? I dislike that rule, but I digress. Ovechkin’s bigger concern is he needs two goals to reach 50 for the ninth time in his career, which would tie him with Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky for most seasons with 50 goals.
This would be the second time in his career he fell short of 50 for reasons completely out of his control. He scored 32 goals in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He was on pace for 55 goals that year. And now he could miss the elusive 50-goal mark again. Brutal.
And if this stretches into next regular season, it very well could impact Ovechkin’s ability to catch Gretzky or the most goals in NHL history.
2. Connor McDavid. He has 97 points in 64 games and easily would have reached 100 points if the season continued. In doing so would become only the 13th player in NHL history to have 100+ points in four consecutive seasons. He had a very realistic chance to move into second place, if he remained healthy. He could have done something only Wayne Gretzky did: score 100+ in seven consecutive seasons.
3. Auston Matthews. With 47 goals he was poised to become the fourth Toronto Maple Leafs player to score 50 goals in a season, and the first since Dave Andreychuk in 1994. Scoring 50 goals for an original six team has become a rarity. Jaromir Jagr is the only player to do it since 1994, when he scored 54 with the Rangers in 2006.
Ray Sheppard scored 52 for the Detroit Red Wings in 1994.
Cam Neely scored 50 (in 49 games) for the Boston Bruins in 1994.
Jeremy Roenick tallied 50 with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1993.
Stephane Richer scored 51 for the Montreal Canadiens in 1990.
Matthews would have become only the 12th American-born player, and the 93rd or 94th (read #4) player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season.
4. David Pastrnak. Very similar to Matthews. He had 48 goals and would have been the first Bruins player to score 50 since Neely. He also would have joined Jagr as the only players from the Czech Republic to score 50 goals in a season. That would have been a major accomplishment in his home country.
5. Leon Draisaitl. He was on pace for 49.7 goals, and very close to reaching 50. Only 15 players in NHL history have had consecutive seasons of both 50 goals and 100 points and Draisaitl had a chance to become the 16th.
Michel Goulet, Dany Heatley, Pavel Bure, Charlie Simmer and Kevin Stevens did it twice.
Mario Lemieux and Alex Ovechkin had three consecutive seasons of 50 goals and 100 points.
Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Jari Kurri had four in a row.
Phil Esposito and Marcel Dionne had five.
Mike Bossy and Guy Lafleur had six consecutive.
Wayne Gretzky did it nine times.
Had he reached 50 goals he’d be only the 30th player in NHL history to score 50 in consecutive seasons.
Draisaitl was also on pace for 127 points, which would have been the most by an Oilers player since Mark Messier had 129 in 1990. Had Draisaitl scored 129 points he would have produced the most in the NHL since 1996.
6. Quinn Hughes. The rookie blueliner had 53 points with 13 games remaining. He was poised to become the first rookie defender to score 60 points since Nick Lidstrom in 1992 and only the 10th blueliner all time to score 60 points in his first season.
Hughes was on pace for 63 points which would have been seventh best all-time and the most in the NHL since 1989.
7. Cale Makar also had a shot at reaching the elusive 60 points. He would need 10 points in 13 games, and was on pace to do that this season with 50 points in 57 games. It would have been only the second time in NHL history two rookie D-men each scored 60 points in a season. Crazy.
8. Patrick Marleau. He is fifth all time in games played at 1,723. The Penguins had 13 games remaining and he could have passed Ron Francis (1,731) and Jagr (1,733) and finished the season third all-time behind Mark Messier and Gordie Howe. Maybe he returns for another season, but if not he finishes fifth, and let’s be honest #3 is better than #5. Not only in stature, but also looks.
I understand, from a logical point of view, why the NHL is unlikely to complete the regular season. However, I love historical facts and stats and that side of my brain would love to see the NHL complete the season, or at the very least have a 76-game season as I believe some of these players deserve to have their accomplishments remembered in the history books.
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