It’s difficult to think about hockey right now.
Eventually, the NHL will come back. Given the severity of Sunday’s news updates, which keep getting worse, it doesn’t seem like we’ll see a restart in a few weeks, with an abbreviated regular season and a full postseason. It seems like the Covid-19 pandemic could drag things out to force the cancellation of the rest of the season. That is not a certainty, but it is possible. Whenever the league returns, the focus will have shifted. People’s lives will have changed. But there will be hockey again.
For now, we take stock of an entire league’s worth of storylines on hold:
▪ The Bruins were in first place from Feb. 5 until the Great Pause on March 12, and remains at the top of the shuttered league. This was looking like their year, and one of the last good runs of one of the best core groups this franchise has had (Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Co.). Torey Krug is among several free agents. What becomes of this club? Much more to delve into here, while we’re shuttered inside this spring.
▪ While we’re speaking to the Black and Gold folks: No one will blame you for rewatching Game 7 of the 2013 Toronto series. Go ahead.
▪ Unanswerable questions: Will Chara (turns 43 on Wednesday) and Patrick Marleau (dealt to Pittsburgh at the deadline, looking for his first Stanley Cup) get another chance to chase the trophy? Is this the end of the road for David Backes (Anaheim) and Joe Thornton (San Jose)?
▪ Would David Pastrnak (48 goals) or Auston Matthews (47) unseat nine-time winner Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy? Speaking of Ovechkin, would he and Russian running mate Ilya Kovalchuk get to make magic in the postseason, or would Kovalchuk take his talents elsewhere in free agency?
▪ The Flyers were the hottest team in the league, seemingly out of nowhere. They made a run near the top of the Metro Division, sitting 1 point behind the Caps when the red flag was waved. Didn’t you want to see what Playoff Gritty had in store? Also, it sure looked like Sean Couturier’s time to win his first Selke Trophy (even though around here, we all know Patrice Bergeron’s better).
▪ As good as Tuukka Rask has been, it was hard to find a better Vezina candidate than the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck. No one played more games (58), made more saves (1,656), or pitched more shutouts (six) than the ex-UMass-Lowell netminder, who had a .922 save percentage and has lifted a decimated Winnipeg defense into playoff position.
▪ The Lightning’s cap situation is tight going forward. This was an all-in season for the Bolts. Will this loaded group get Steven Stamkos back and make a run, or will summer strip the shine away, and management has to dismantle a few pieces?
▪ Nathan MacKinnon (93 points) is a strong MVP candidate, and if healthy, the Avalanche were one of the most exciting teams in the league. Did they have enough to take down the Blues, who remained at the top of the West standings with immense depth (and no Vladimir Tarasenko)?
▪ Mika Zibanejad scored five goals in a recent Rangers game, of late proving those wrong who said he wasn’t a legitimate No. 1 center (hand up here). He and Artemi Panarin (95 points, tied with Pastrnak for third in scoring) were lifting the resurgent Blueshirts to sniffing distance of the playoffs. They were 2 points out of the wild card. Florida, 3 points shy, was fading. Both clubs were behind the Islanders, who never seem to get enough scoring, but leave teams battered, bruised, and with a 2-1 loss on their hands.
▪ Somehow, Columbus and Jack Adams candidate John Tortorella were in the dance (81 points, next to Carolina for the wild card). A Blue Jackets-Bruins playoff series, trending that way if the season ended now, would have seen Emil Bemstrom a marked man. That series would be an absolute battle.
▪ We were on track for a Battle of Alberta first round. Edmonton vs. Calgary. It would have been amazing. I didn’t want to get all weepy, but man, that would have been good.
▪ Hard to get excited about Montreal’s prospects, but Buffalo would have been worth watching down the stretch to see what Jack Eichel might have created. Eichel, with 78 points in 68 games, was 28 points ahead of his second-highest scoring teammate, Sam Reinhart (50 points). He’s been carrying that team for months.
▪ The Red Wings (17-49-5), arguably the worst team since the turn-of-the-millennium Islanders and expansion-era Thrashers, will have to wait to see if they get Alexis Lafreniere. What if the lottery Ping-Pong balls landed with another club, like Ottawa?
▪ The Canucks, mere percentage points out of the West wild card race, were going for their first playoff appearance since 2015. If they get Brock Boeser and netminder Jacob Markstrom — the latter having a career year — back from injuries, they could make it off the bubble and in. If we restart, of course.
▪ The Devils have been miserable for most of the year, but rookie netminder Mackenzie Blackwood (6-0-1 with a .967 save percentage in February) has been a breath of fresh air. He could be the future in Jersey.
▪ Good news for our neighbors up north: If things get back online by the summer, the Maple Leafs might finally play in June.