By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s Asterisk Narrative Season.
With the NHL trying their hardest to return from their Mar. 12 pause and begin the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in mid-to-late July, some have preemptively starting writing this year off as an asterisk season, asterisk champion, yadda yadda yadda.
But speaking with the media in a Wednesday afternoon Zoom conference, Bruins president Cam Neely confirmed that he doesn’t subscribe to this notion in any way, shape, or form.
“Well, if it’s in a good way,” Neely said of a potential asterisk. “I don’t see why it’d be in a bad way. We’ve had shortened seasons — whether it’s [through] lockouts or strikes — and had Stanley Cup champions and I don’t recall seeing asterisks besides those years.
“I don’t see why this isn’t any different.”
It’s true: Nobody discounts the Blackhawks’ 2013 championship in a lockout-delayed 48-game campaign. The Blackhawks were the league’s best team from start to finish, and defeated Neely’s Bruins in a six-game series to capture what was their second title in four years and the middle championship of what was a three-in-six dynasty on Madison. After seeing it unfold and realizing what it took for the Blackhawks to accomplish this fear, the mere idea of saying that championship, which still required the Blackhawks to win four separate series, is preposterous when you sit and think about it.
The same should be applied to the 2019-20 season, which has seen all 31 teams on pause since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the sports world back in March, and will return with 24 teams vying for Lord Stanley. I mean, if you want to be bold, you could almost make the case that this would be more impressive than what the Hawks did seven years ago, as teams are jumping right back into the swing of things after a four-month break between games and with all but eight of the league’s 24 returning teams having to win a best-of-five play-in just to get to the field of 16. (Is the asterisk noting how they had an even more difficult road than usual orrrrr…?)
But Neely’s anti-asterisk stance goes beyond lockouts and strikes, as he remember the days where first-round series weren’t the seven-game war they’ve become, and how the game has been through a constant evolution of their playoff format over the last century-plus.
“The playoff format has changed in the history of the NHL,” Neely noted. “The number of games per round has changed.”
(Note: It’s still unknown whether or not the league will go with a best-of-five format in the opening two rounds of the playoffs this year. That seems dependent on their return date, though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman noted that he believes the league will be able to play the first half of their postseason in a month’s time no matter the series’ lengths.)
“So I still think if you’re going to have play four rounds and beat those teams, I don’t see why there needs to be an asterisk besides the Stanley Cup champion,” said Neely.