We want hockey!
Now, there may be arguments of how soon we want it to return. But the bottom line is, we all want to see the sport make a comeback at some point.
Well, according to multiple sources, including TSN and Sportsnet, we could be inching closer. There is a proposal for a 24-team playoff, which would allow for the Stanley Cup to be awarded this season. Elliotte Friedman reports that this latest idea is gaining traction.
The proposal still needs to be fully approved by both the league and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) before anything is really firmed up, but it seems like a move in the right direction. As of right now the NHLPA have agreed to “further negotiations” for the 24-team format.
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In a nutshell – and it should be noted that the details are currently fluid and subject to change – it’s all about conferences, Eastern and Western. The top-four teams by points percentage, regardless of divisional standings, will be awarded a bye, while seeds 5 to 12 battle in a best-of-five “play-in series.”
The Predators do not own one of the Western Conference’s top-four winning percentages, for anyone that hasn’t been examining the standings each time a new playoff idea has been released. But they will face one of the top-four teams – in their case, the Vegas Golden Knights – should they win their play-in series against the Arizona Coyotes.
Time to cue the hockey cliché, “we’re going to take it one game at a time.” In other words, the Predators shouldn’t even think about the Golden Knights when Coyotes are standing in their way. They must take care of business first, it’s not a done deal. It was a while ago – 2012 to be exact – but the Desert Dogs have broken the hearts of the Predators in the playoffs before.
Regardless of who faces them, it is worth mentioning the Golden Knights because you may be wondering about rust.
As is the case with the NFL playoffs, the top two teams are awarded a bye. However, is it possible that a week off does more harm than good? Can that week off lead to lost momentum?
The number one seed Baltimore Ravens were favored to make the AFC Championship, but lost in stunning fashion after their week off to the Tennessee Titans. Now, the amount of times the first or second seed has made it to the Super Bowl could counter that argument, but that’s a debate for another time and a different forum.
Anyway, under these circumstances it could be much worse than having just one week off. It’s been roughly 10 weeks since the NHL pushed the pause button, which is a long time if hockey fans haven’t already mentioned. It could be an unfair advantage if the top-four teams must sit and wait even longer while the play-in series are settled.
But rest assured fans of any top-four team or general fair play, this has been thought of. Under the framework that has been discussed, the top-four teams from each conference will each play a three-game, round robin-style tournament. Currently it seems the games will count for nothing other than serving the sole purpose of becoming game ready, but that hasn’t been made 100 percent clear.
Now to the matter at hand, the Predators’ potential series against the Coyotes.
The 2019-20 head-to-head season series between these two teams is unfinished. The third and final meeting was one of the Predators’ 13 games postponed and now seemingly abandoned. But the two games that were played were split. The Coyotes defeated the Predators in Glendale, way back on Oct. 17. The Predators then returned the favour in Nashville on Dec. 23, skating away with a 3-2 victory.
There are no ties in hockey. So, if we’re looking to award the edge in this unfinished series, it would have to go to the Coyotes. They totaled seven goals to the Predators’ five. But it should be noted that one of the seven Coyotes’ goals was an empty netter, so even when considering the tie-breaker, this was a tight series.
Like we did with our preview of a potential Predators/Golden Knights series, we can extend back to the 2017-18 season to possibly gain a better perspective and maybe even spot some trends.
Over the past eight contests between the Predators and Coyotes, the Predators are 4-3-1. Even when spanning back just shy of three seasons, no team has a significant edge. Despite coming away with an above .500 record, the Predators have allowed an average of 2.63 goals against, while only scoring 2.25 goals for.
With so much uncertainty surrounding travel, it is still unclear where these games will be hosted. It may be safe to say that the traditional home ice advantage going to the higher seed will not be seen. In the previous eight games against the Coyotes, the Predators were 3-1 in home games. So, the Smashville faithful will be missed. However, unless the opposition also happens to be a host city – to which the NHL is currently looking at 8-9 sites – every team will be playing “on the road,” so to speak.
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The Predators do have areas of concern, mainly their power play. Over the past three seasons against the Coyotes, the Predators have been awarded 24 power plays, to which they have converted just once. For those of us who aren’t great with quick math, it equates to an alarming 4.2 percent success rate.
On the flip side, the penalty kill has been fairly average, operating at 81.5 percent, which isn’t headline making, but good enough to stave off any excessive panic when a player makes the lonely skate to the box.
Players to Watch
As is often the case with the Predators, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis lead the charge. The defensemen led the team with two points each in the two games against the Coyotes this season. Ellis’ point-per-game average extends as far back as 2016-17, totaling 10 points in the previous 10 games. So, it’s safe to say that the 29-year-old defenseman is comfortable with this matchup.
In terms of forwards, it’s Matt Duchene who leads the way. The first-year Predator has amassed 21 career points in 31 contests against the Coyotes (11 goals and 10 assists), closely followed by Nick Bonino who has 19 career points in 31 games.
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As for Arizona, All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been the team’s cornerstone. In his 30 career games against the Predators, he has 5 goals and 11 assists.
However, more recently it has been the Coyotes’ trio of young forwards who have been the thorn in the Predators’ side. Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak have combined for 14 points in 19 games. The former Chicago Blackhawks’ draft pick, Schmaltz has caused significant damage with five points in just three games.
Containing the Coyotes’ young stars would be the Predators’ top-priority and their toughest task. They’re all fast, extremely skilled and can all shoot the puck. Unfortunately for the Predators, the Coyotes’ skill doesn’t end there. On top of trying to get their offense going against Ekman-Larsson, the Predators will have to worry about 22-year-old, Jakob Chychrun, a 6-foot-2 defenseman who can shut down top lines with the best in the league.
Although the Coyotes have struggled to put all the pieces together recently and find notable success, there is no shortage of skill on both ends of the ice. According to Elliotte Friedman, there are rumors that the Pittsburgh Penguins are a little concerned about the prospect of facing Montreal Canadiens’ star goaltender, Carey Price in a short series. Although there may not be the same level of “concern” from the Predators’ camp regarding the Coyotes, this would be no easy series.
As we’ve seen over the past several weeks and months, no matter how the proposal looks, it’s impossible to please everybody. There could be a discussion regarding how the Predators should feel about this latest idea. Nashville was in a playoff position when the sports world came to a halt, both via points and points percentage.
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However, they’re now being asked to battle with a “non-playoff” team to earn a spot in the first round. Is a best-of-five series long enough for teams to find their rhythm? Probably not. Although as mentioned, everyone is dealing with the same conditions. But if teams find their groove sooner than others, it could mean some cup-contenders taking early exits.
This could be a topic to itself. There is no perfect solution. But c’est la vie. We may need to look past any unfairness we feel our teams are enduring to see the bigger picture.
No, this latest proposal does not please everyone, but it does serve a common desire. That being the fact that we want hockey!
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27