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What Would An Asterisk Mean?

I have heard the word “asterisk” more times in the last month than I ever have in my life. It’s quickly become a buzz word around the sports community as people wonder if the champions that are crowned this season in all of the major sports leagues will be considered ‘legitimate’ winners. 

Hockey obviously isn’t exempt from that. Will this year’s Stanley Cup be tainted? When we look back at the 2020 playoffs in ten or twenty years, will we see the winner as deserving? Or will we view the entire playoffs as a gimmick that was orchestrated by the league to recover some money?

I’ve seen some very good points made on both sides when it comes to this debate. 

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Some players have come out and said that they believe that this will be the hardest Stanley Cup to win because instead of having to win four series, you need to win five. It will take 19 wins to capture The Cup, which is something no team has ever had to do.

On the other hand, even if you’re excited for hockey to come back, I’m sure you can see why the 24-team playoff format seems a little gimmicky. For some teams, it feels unfair. Take the Oilers and Penguins for example. Those two teams were essentially locks to make the playoffs before the league was paused and now, they have to go up against the Blackhawks and Canadiens in a best-of-five series when both of those teams had less than a 5% chance of making the playoffs a few months ago. That’s something that Connor McDavid addressed in a zoom call last week.

“There’s going to be teams that aren’t thrilled with it and there are going to be teams that are ecstatic about the format”, said the Oilers Captain, who continued on to say, “There’s never going to be a perfect scenario. There’s never going to be a perfect format”.

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McDavid is 100% correct in saying that. No matter what kind of system the league and players came up with, there were going to be a handful of teams that would have felt like they were getting the short end of the stick. Even though it’s easy to see why the 24-team format doesn’t benefit some teams, the only two organizations that voted against it were the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. 

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“I think everyone around the league has to take a step back and say what’s best for the league and not what’s best for my team,” said McDavid, which likely explains why more teams weren’t opposed to the format.

So if the league and players have agreed that this system is fair, then there shouldn’t be anyone in the league who stands up in late September, when the Stanley Cup will likely be handed out, and cries foul. They all agreed that this was the best way to determine a Champion for the 19/20 season.

Still, this hardly feels like it’s all about crowning a winner. It still feels more about money than anything. The NHL is a business and their number one priority is making money. The players will also benefit from returning to play and ensuring that the league doesn’t lose any more money. 

Some fans will say that they don’t care if the leagues return to play is all about money because they just want hockey back. I want hockey back too, but will watching your favourite team win The Stanley Cup in September with no fans in the building really feel the same? Will it be just as satisfying as the real thing? To me, it won’t. 

“It’s not going to be the same, there’s no doubt about that. It sucks, frankly, but we got to do what we got to do to get back to playing hockey,” said McDavid on the idea of no fans in attendance.

Will a big goal feel the same without the roar of the crowd behind it? I’m not sure it will. If hockey returns this summer, I will watch with an open mind because I miss the sport and I want to watch the Oilers play meaningful hockey. But I will also be the first one to admit that it won’t feel the same.

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Whoever wins the Stanley Cup will have earned it. They fought through a gruelling hockey gauntlet and would have potentially won 19 games to get to that point. For their fans, I’m sure it will still feel rewarding to watch their favourite players lift The Cup, but, there will be an asterisk next to that team and it will be there for a reason. Whether it’s viewed as a positive or a negative will always be debated but you can’t deny that it won’t be the same.

Will I watch it? Absolutely. Will I be entertained by it? You better believe it. But will the winner feel like a legitimate Stanley Cup winner? Maybe the magic of the playoffs will change my mind but as of right now, I’m not sold on it.