It has been 119 days since we have been able to watch an NHL game but it looks like playoff hockey is just around the corner.
As of Sunday, the tentative starting date for the qualifying rounds is August 1st. Whether you agree with it or not, the NHL is going to do everything they can to name a 2020 Stanley Cup Champion. Hub cities have been named. Protocols have been put in place and now we sit back and hope it all works out safely.
A four-plus month wait was not what anyone anticipated but it is going to help a few of the Stanley Cup hopefuls. There were several players whose season was in jeopardy of being over but the Covid-19 work stoppage will allow them to get back on the ice for the 2020 season.
@Mike Green – RHD
Green was acquired at the Trade Deadline from the @Detroit Red Wings and played a total of 32:30 TOI in an Oilers uniform before suffering a sprained MCL in late-February. Green likely would have been ready for the start of the playoffs anyways but now there are no questions that his knee will be ready-to-go for their play-in round against the @Chicago Blackhawks.
Green, who has 11 points (3G / 8A) will likely skate on the Oilers’ third-pair with @Kris Russell and should see a little power-play action on the second unit. In his career, he has 37 points (10G / 27A) in 76 career playoff games but has not been in the postseason since 2016.
@Brent Seabrook – RHD & @Calvin de Haan – LHD
The Oilers play-in round counterparts should also get some help back on the blueline. Seabrook has been out since December and has undergone three surgeries since that time. First was right shoulder surgery and then surgery on his right hip in early-January and then his left hip in early-February. At the time, a return this season was never going to happen but an expanded playoff format that allowed the Blackhawks to get in and a lengthy wait could allow the veteran to get back into the lineup. As of late-June, General Manager Stan Bowman wasn’t entirely sure if Seabrook would be ready and acknowledged they would know more in the coming weeks.
While Seabrook’s timeline is difficult to pinpoint, it is almost a guarantee that Chicago will get de Haan back for Game 1. de Haan underwent shoulder surgery in late-December and was given a four-to-six month timetable to return–we are already at the end of that timeline so expect the 29-year-old to be an important part of slowing down @Connor McDavid and @Leon Draisaitl.
@Jacob Markstrom – G & Micheal Ferland – RW
Markstrom was enjoying a career-year before a lower-body injury threatened to end his 2020 regular season. Markstrom underwent a minor procedure in late-February and was expected to miss all of March. @Thatcher Demko filled in admirably before the season was paused but the Canucks need a healthy Markstrom if they’re going to make a run in the Western Conference.
Ferland’s status for the qualifying round is a little more cloudy. He was placed on LTIR in mid-December due to lingering concussion-like symptoms but could play vs. the Coyotes following a six-month layoff. General Manager Jim Benning told reporters back in late-May that he was still going through physical therapy and they will not know if he will play until closer to August 1st. With team training camps scheduled to start next Monday, expect a new update on his status then. During his brief time in the Canucks lineup, Ferland had five points (1G / 4A) in 14 games and led the team in hits–just the kind of player that you want back in your lineup for the postseason grind.
@Conor Garland – RW
Garland was hurt just two days before the NHL season was paused and his 2020 season appeared over. However, like the Blackhawks, the Coyotes were granted postseason status and Garland will get a chance to build off of his breakout regular season. The 24-year-old winger led Arizona in goals (22) and was third in points (39) in 68 games.
@Bryan Little – C
Back in November, Little was hit in the head by a @Nikolaj Ehlers shot that perforated his eardrum and led to vertigo symptoms. Little eventually returned to the ice but the Jets shut him down for the season in mid-February. With the playoffs pushed back, it’s entirely possible that he could be back for the Jets but head coach Paul Maurice said he will not play until he’s 100 percent.
@Jake Guentzel – LW
Guentzel was on heater for the first three months of the season, ranking tied for 12th in the NHL in goals (20) and 14th in points (43) through 39 games. However, he took an awkward fall in late-December and it ended his regular season and even put a return for the playoffs in doubt.
Now the Penguins catch a break and get Guentzel back for the play-in round and they were a better team with him in the lineup. From October to the end of December, Pittsburgh had the fifth-best record (24-11-4) in the NHL and was seventh in goal-scoring. After he got hurt, they were 17th in the NHL and barely above .500 (16-12-2) while ranking 18th in goals. Guentzel will most likely be reunited with @Sidney Crosby on the top line, leaving them with a stacked second line of @Jason Zucker – @Evgeni Malkin – @Bryan Rust.
@Tomas Tatar – LW & Victor Mete – LHD
Tatar went down with an upper-body injury in early-March and with the Canadiens out of the playoff hunt, his season was over at that point. Then Covid-19 stepped in and gives Tatar a cache to build off his career-high 61 points (22G / 39A) in the regular season.
Mete also thought his campaign was over when he broke his foot in late-February. Now he will likely be back alongside veteran @Shea Weber as the Canadiens “shutdown” pair in the play-in round.
@Dougie Hamilton – RHD, @Sami Vatanen – RHD & Brett Pesce – RHD
The Hurricanes are one of the teams that benefitted the most from the four-month break.
The biggest news will be the return of Dougie Hamilton. Before he got hurt, Hamilton was tied for second among defensemen in goals (14) and fourth in points (40). Then he broke his fibula in mid-January and his 2020 season appeared to be over. Now that we know that’s not the case, the Hurricanes will add a bonafide No.1 defenseman to a team that was third in PK%, eighth in PP% and 11th in GF/gm without him.
The blueline bolstering does not stop there though. Carolina acquired Vatanen from the @New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline and expected him to return from injury shortly thereafter. During his recovery, Vatanen suffered a setback in a morning skate in early-March and still hasn’t suited up for his new team. His debut will come in the play-in round against the Rangers and gives the Hurricanes another high-end puck-moving defenseman that can also help on the power-play.
If that isn’t enough, the Hurricanes could also get Pesce back soon. General Manager Don Waddell expects Pesce to be back for the middle of August, which means he could miss the play-in round but could be back for “Round 1” if the Hurricanes get there. With Pesce back, Carolina will have 9 legit options on the blueline. That’s unfathomable.
@New York Rangers
@Chris Kreider – LW
Kreider suffered a fractured foot at the end of February and the Rangers never released a timetable before the season was paused. He likely would be been ready to go if the Rangers snuck into the playoffs but they were one the outside looking in when the season ground to a halt. Kreider has scored at least 20 goals with at least 20 assists in five of the last six seasons and has been terrific on a line with @Mika Zibanejad this season.
@Toronto Maple Leafs
@Andreas Johnsson – LW
Johnsson underwent knee surgery in mid-February and the original timetable was six months. That would put a return around mid-August, which means he could be ready for “Round 1” if the Maple Leafs can get by the @Columbus Blue Jackets. At this point, there has been no real update on his status but expect the Maple Leafs to provide some insight when they start training camp.
@Columbus Blue Jackets
@Seth Jones – RHD, Oliver Bjorkstrand – RW, Alexandre Texier – LW
Like the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets are going to get a huge boost after four months off. Two of their stalwarts, Seth Jones and Oliver Bjorkstrand after each suffering serious injuries in February.
Jones had ankle surgery in mid-February and was expected to miss 8-to-10 weeks while Bjorkstrand had the same timeline for a sprained and fractured ankle a few weeks later. Both will be back and are two of the most important players on the roster.
Texier has been out since early-January with a lumbar stress fracture and will help bolster their top-9 after posting 13 points (6G / 7A) in 36 games during the regular season.
They could also use @Josh Anderson back in the top-9 but it seems unlikely that he will be ready-to-go for August 1st. However, if John Tortorella can get his group to upset the Maple Leafs like they did the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, Anderson could be back.
@Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos – C
Stamkos was in danger of missing at least a portion of Round 1 after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle injury at the end of February. His original timetable was 6-to-8 weeks which could have kept him out until early-June. Even while missing 13 games this year, Stamkos had 29 goals and 37 assists (66 points) in 57 games. The break has the Lightning entering the playoffs 100 percent healthy and looking to avenge a surprising first-round sweep a year ago.
@Nolan Patrick – C
One of the sadder stories of the 2020 season is Nolan Patrick. The 21-year-old has missed the entire season with a migraine disorder. The 2017 No.2 overall pick skated sparingly throughout the year and has been skating and working out in Winnipeg during the pandemic. According to Assistant general manager Brent Flahr, Patrick is “going in the right direction” but it’s still unclear whether or not he will play in the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues
@Vladimir Tarasenko – RW
Just in time to defend their 2019 Stanley Cup Championship. Tarasenko underwent surgery on his left shoulder in late-October and resumed skating before the season was paused. He’ll certainly be ready to go for the first round and will look to build off of the 11 goals and 17 points he had in 26 postseason games a year ago.
@Mikko Rantanen – RW & Nazem Kadri – C
The Avalanche were really banged up when the season was paused. They were without Rantanen, Kadri, @Nathan MacKinnon, @Philipp Grubauer and @Andre Burakovsky to name a few. However, only Rantanen and Kadri were expected to miss an extended period of time but both will be ready to go four months later.
Rantanen was expected to miss multiple weeks with an upper-body injury but was back on the ice with his team at the end of June and will be ready to go for August 1st. He was not on the same pace as 2019 but he was near a point-per-game, scoring 19 goals with 22 assists (41 points) in 42 games.
Kadri was expected to miss at least a month with a lower-body injury he suffered in mid-February. That would have put him on track to be back in time for the first round if he was on-track. Months later, he will be at 100 percent for his first playoff series in an Avalanche uniform. Hopefully, he can keep his emotions in check and doesn’t get suspended immediately.
Vegas Golden Knights
@Mark Stone – RW
Stone suffered a lower-body injury the day before the season was paused. It was anticipated that he could be back before the end of the season but wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Now, Vegas doesn’t have to worry about getting one of the league’s best two-way players back in time as they search for their first-ever Stanley Cup.