Most agree the NHL's 24-team return to play format isn't exactly benefitting the Boston Bruins in the way past Presidents' Trophy winners have enjoyed the fringe benefits of being a No. 1 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins were the only NHL team with 100 points when the regular season went on pause in early March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but that doesn't mean they'll be the top seed once the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.
Instead they'll still need to protect their top seed status in the Eastern Conference during a round-robin three-game tournament with the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers when the NHL's "qualifying round" eventually resumes this summer.
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But some hockey prognosticators including TSN's Darren Dreger and Ray Ferraro think that's not where the playoff peril really lies for the Bruins.
On a recent Zoom call with Boston Hockey Now's James Murphy and yours truly, Dreger and Ferraro explained why those top seeds could be lining up for a buzz-saw once they start playing hockey teams that had been fighting for their very lives during the play-in round.
"I'm going to be fascinated to see how the first round plays out. Call it whatever you want, some refer to it as a playoff round while [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman] prefers that we call it a qualifying round," said Dreger. "Then of course you've got a round-robin tourney for the top four teams. I spoke to [Avalanche center] Nathan MacKinnon about this last week and he's just happy to be talking hockey again. He's looking forward to start playing again, and as a top team in the Western Conference he saw no value in getting a bye.
"The only thing he wondered about is whether they are going to have the same intensity in that round-robin that teams are going to have in the qualifying round. Ultimately, it will likely be a re-seeding formula, so you'll be playing for something in the round-robin. But you won't be playing for your postseason lives. Those best-of-five [series] in the qualifying round, the hockey might be rusty… but it's going to be intense. Whatever that intensity looks like, that might be a bit of an advantage for those teams that advance from the qualifying round into the field of 16."
Whether it's the Penguins, Maple Leafs, Hurricanes or some other team entirely, the Bruins will face a challenging, battle-hardened opponent in the first round regardless of their seeding.
Ferraro, a veteran of 18 years in the NHL and 18 years in the hockey broadcast booth, thinks that NHL crème like the Bruins is still going to rise to the top once the games are played, but also pointed to the job that NHL coaches will have getting their hockey clubs ready to play. That may mean a much more combative training camp for a team like the Bruins, as Bruce Cassidy will have them ramping up to playoff intensity while taking part in the lower-stakes round-robin tournament.
"My thought is that because the guys have been away for so long that there is going to be some wild unpredictability to it. Say that a guy has a career year and he scores 30 goals during the season, but then over the summer he reverts back to what he normally [would be] and he scores 16 goals the next season," said Ferraro. "Well, this is like the offseason… it's even longer than an offseason. So the guy that was rolling along in March [when the season went on pause] might be the old guy in July and August, or whenever we start playing.
"My feeling is that the best teams are still going to be the best teams, though. If you didn't have a No. 1 goalie or a top defenseman, they didn't just show up [during the break in the season] over the last few months. If you're a team like the Bruins that's deep, and strong, and has good goaltending and lots of depth, then they are still going to be the Bruins. I think this is why you pay those coaches millions of dollars. Even though these round-robin games won't be the same, as the leader you need to get that group to buy in and check in. When those round-robin coaches get their teams going in camp, they are going to have to find ways to ramp up the intensity and ramp up the conflict in practice. The guys [will] have to learn to battle again."
Interesting thoughts from a guy in Ferraro who knows just how difficult it will be to ramp up straight into a playoff tournament from a training camp setting. There wasn't a team better primed and ready for a playoff run than a healthy, rolling Bruins squad cruising to the Presidents' Trophy back in March, but there will be many more hurdles when play finally does resume this summer.
Bruins' biggest stumbling block in NHL's new playoff format? The wait originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston