Stanley Cup tournament will crown ‘very worthy champion’

Winning the Stanley Cup this season under the NHL Return to Play Plan could be more difficult than during a normal season, Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano said Wednesday. And that’s fine with him.

“It’s going to be tough, a real grind,” Giordano said. “I honestly think this year, more than any other year in recent memory, is going to be the most difficult ever to win this thing. … But make no mistake, that’s how we want it to be.”

The NHL, which paused its season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, announced its restart plan Tuesday. The 24 remaining teams will begin with a 16-team, eight-series Qualifying Round and an eight-team Seeding Round Robin among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The qualifying round and round-robin will be held at two hub cities to be identified — one for the 12 Eastern Conference teams and one for the 12 Western Conference teams — and begin at a date to be determined.

The winners of the qualifying round advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the round-robin teams.

The day after the plan was announced, players and executives agreed that the team that wins the Stanley Cup will have earned it.

“Any team that is going to win five rounds … considering the things we’re going through and what it’s going to take to get this done and be able to play from so many different levels, I think it will be a very worthy Stanley Cup champion,” said Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, a member of the Return to Play Committee. “And they’ll be as worthy as any team or players that won it before them.”

Video: NHL’s Return to Play Plan ANIMATED

Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said he did not agree that the Stanley Cup champion should have an asterisk next to its name.

“I have a hard time with that one,” Foligno said. “A Stanley Cup championship is a Stanley Cup championship in my eyes, and nobody can take that away from you. You still have to go through four rounds to win. It will be a great story to tell one day, so I don’t really buy into that stuff.”

New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said even though the NHL was unable to complete its 82-game regular season, the integrity of the championship will be preserved.

“I believe whoever wins that final game in the Stanley Cup Finals and wins the last game is deserving of being awarded that,” Lamoriello said. “And the integrity of that to me, after going through some 68, 70 games and different situations of teams and then qualifying for whatever position you’re in right now … In my opinion, it’s been done right. I feel who gets that trophy deserves it.”

Tavares said integrity was a key focus for the Return to Play Committee, which included executives from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, and four other players: Ottawa Senators defenseman Ron Hainsey, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele, Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk.

“It was discussed a lot,” Tavares said. “Anyone who gets their name on it would like to do it in the manner of the players before them. 

“Given the circumstances we’re all in, it’s not going to be perfect. We obviously came up with the result that this is the best one. Whether it’s perfect or not can be up for debate. But we’re going to get to a normal 16-team playoff.”

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Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, one of the four teams in the West to get a bye into the first round, said the round-robin is a good way to come back.

“It’s great that we can play some meaningful games against the top teams in the West for seeding,” the center told TSN. “… I think that’s a pretty good format, how they’re doing it. There’s no perfect way, everybody had to get creative and it seems like a good place to start.”

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, whose team won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, said the race is wide open.

“The 24 teams that are in, any one of those teams can win,” Rutherford said. “Playoffs are hard. Everybody knows that. We know it as well as anybody with the success that we’ve had.”

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he can’t wait for it to get started. 

“It’s going to be beautiful,” Cheveldayoff said. “Because right now I think all of us would love to be able to do it.”

NHL.com staff writers Brian Compton, Tom Gulitti, Mike Zeisberger and NHL.com independent correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this report

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