Anze Kopitar hopes the Kings' season isn’t over yet.
During a videoconference call alongside three other Pacific Division players on Friday afternoon, Kopitar said that, whenever play is able to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he would be in favor of the league continuing the regular season instead of jumping straight to a postseason for which the Kings wouldn't qualify.
“I don’t think we’re the youngest guys on this call, anymore, so we probably need a few games to get loosened up, to get back into the speed of everything,” the 32-year-old Kopitar said jokingly on a call alongside fellow veterans Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture and Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“For the format, your guess is probably as good as mine. You want to play a few games to get into the thick of things. I don’t think starting the playoffs right away would be the best idea.”
If the NHL were to skip straight to the playoffs, it would almost certainly mean the end of the season for the Kings. Despite a seven-game winning streak before the season was suspended on March 12, the Kings are still second-to-last in the 15-team Western Conference.
Even if the league were to slightly expand its playoff field to compensate for this season’s unprecedented circumstances, the Kings would probably still not qualify.
“Kopi, for some reason I don’t think we have to worry about the playoff format this year,” Getzlaf joked on the four-way call, his Ducks also out of the running and only one spot ahead of the Kings in the standings.
Couture, whose Sharks are last in the conference, then chimed in with a laugh: “Bring back all the teams.”
Getzlaf’s semi-serious response: “Yeah, let’s do a 31-team thing. That would be awesome.”
Even with the league reportedly considering an expanded playoff field beyond the usual 16 participants, anything more than a 24-team event that would take 12 clubs from both conferences seems unrealistic.
“I read about [potentially] an extended playoff format,” Kopitar said, “but for us three, we’re going to have to really stretch for it. It is what it is.”
Fleury broached the idea of a separate tournament for non-playoffs teams that would decide who gets the No. 1 draft pick.
“I don’t know how you can pull that off,” Kopitar said. “I think the lottery is the safest bet.”
Other players across the league are also split on what the NHL should do. On Thursday, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said they’d be in favor of going directly to the postseason once the delay is over. On Friday, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid hoped the regular season could be completed in full, if possible.
“You want a fair season,” McDavid told reporters on a separate conference call. “And a fair season is a full season. If we can do that, I think that's something we'd obviously prefer."
The 31 teams in the league have played between 68 and 71 games. A full season is 82 games.
The longer the league’s hiatus lasts, the more likely it appears its regular season could be scrapped.
“We're disappointed this is going on," Kopitar said. "We'd like to be back on the ice, but obviously now the most important thing is we've got to stay safe, we've got to get through this."