With the 2019-20 NHL season finally concluded, let’s take a look at some of the winners — and losers — from what was a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime Stanley Cup Playoffs slate up in Toronto and Edmonton.
1. The Tampa Bay Lightning: Well … duh.
Yes, in the immediate aftermath of such a bizarre, unorthodox conclusion to an NHL campaign, it can be easy to just slap an *asterisk* on Tampa Bay’s second Stanley Cup championship. After all, the Bolts were stuck in a 3-7 rut at the time of the regular-season stoppage, with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman both dealing with injuries and Andrei Vasilevskiy running on fumes. So, yeah, sure, you can say the Bolts benefited from that extended time off.
But c’mon — let’s give credit where credit is due. What Tampa accomplished this postseason was awfully impressive, especially with Stamkos only limited to just 2:47 of ice time this entire postseason. After getting embarrassed by the Blue Jackets last spring in one of the greatest upsets in NHL history, Tampa went scorched earth against the competition up in the bubble — taking care of the Blue Jackets, Bruins, Islanders and Stars in six games or less, while posting a 7-0 record after a loss up in the Toronto/Edmonton bubbles.
An upcoming cap crunch due to a flat salary cap and pending RFAs like Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev will likely prompt Tampa to part ways with middle-six talent in order to remain compliant next season. But with the usual suspects in Hedman, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Stamkos and Vasilevskiy all expected back, this club is still going to be a force in 2021 and beyond.
2. The NHL bubble: The NHL caught plenty of flak during its extended pause this spring while assessing how best to close out the 2019-20 campaign in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were plenty of detractors when the NHL announced plans to host these games in a “bubble” environment, harping on the unlikelihood of the league being able to carry out an entire postseason slate without an outbreak or other expected setback. They received more criticism when they held the cards close to their chest when announcing “hub cities” for this “Return To Play” format — deciding to scrap any plans for a Las Vegas-based location and opt for two venues up in Toronto and Edmonton.
It might have taken some getting used to, but it’s tough to view these last few months as anything other than a sweeping success. From the opening weeks of play with six or more games scheduled every day to the Cup Final between Dallas and Tampa Bay, the NHL put out a fantastic product after a long layoff.
Yes, it wasn’t without its hiccups here and there (especially when it comes to those spending months in the bubble) but the NHL, NHLPA and all those involved should be applauded for their efforts in both getting this tournament off the ground — and most importantly, keeping everyone safe. In the last weekly update leading into Game 6 on Monday, the NHL announced that it conducted 33,174 tests to club personnel, including players, since the start of Phase 4 with zero positive tests. What an achievement.