The NHL season will finally resume. The league has unveiled a 24-team format to return to play. The Boston Bruins, as the team with the most points in the regular season, shall have the best starting position in the summer. Moreover, the Bruins are factically the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
What does that exactly mean for Boston? What are the major advantages and disadvantages coming off the newly-introduced return to play program?
The Bruins will get their chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. History doesn’t ask how. At first, there were fears of the NHL season being canceled entirely, which would mean an end to the very promising season the Bruins had. The Bruins had the best record in the regular season, David Pastrnak was tied for the league lead in goals, and Tuukka Rask was primed to claim the Vezina Trophy. It would have been a shame if the season was nullified.
The Stanley Cup playoffs will be played in arenas without fans. That can be an advantage for the Bruins. Last year in the playoffs, the Bruins were 8-3 on the road while 7-6 on home ice. Now, there will be no home-ice advantage for any teams. The only real differences between the teams will be tactics and quality of play only. The Bruins should have the best chance to win such hockey games. Playing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in front of the nervous home crowd? Not anymore.
The new 24-team format may be a tricky one. One would image that the Bruins end up as the first overall seed and will play the winner of the qualification round between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, that’s not the case. After a round-robin between the top four teams in the Eastern Conference (Tampa, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston), the Bruins may finish as the fourth team on the list. At least, that’s a possibility. In such a case, the Bruins might end up playing the No. 5 seed, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the first round of the playoffs. Something like that wouldn’t happen in the regular format.
As mentioned, arenas without fans might be an advantage for the Bruins, after all. However, any team likes to have home-ice advantage, just for the record. Whether you are the 24th-seeded Montreal or top seed Boston, you get to play in the same arena with the same empty seats as your opponent. The only real difference is the matchups. Based on the last year’s playoffs, Bruce Cassidy liked to match up better against opponents on the road than at home.
As it stands, teams will be allocated in the hub cities, where they may spend a good fortune of time. This is a potential problem for every team in the league. How will the players handle tough playoff matchups without their families for an extended period? There will be no space for emotional distractions or support, either.
The NHL season should resume as early as late July. Until then, the Bruins can prepare … both mentally and physically.