Hockey abruptly stopped in March, and for Kings and Ducks fans, it never got going again, because neither team completed in the playoffs, even with the addition of teams for a qualifying round. Thus SoCal fans have been focused on other things, or on not much of anything, since then. Now it’s time to laser in on hockey again.
So here are some observations on the start of hockey again after a layoff that started ten months ago exactly. Most of these thoughts apply to both the Kings and Ducks, so please don’t be offended, SoCal fans, that I’m lumping you together.
It’s going to be a slog to make the playoffs.Only four of eight teams in the Division will get the playoff berths. It’s not hard to say that St. Louis, Vegas, and Colorado will be there. That leaves one spot for Arizona, Minnesota, San Jose, and whichever SoCal team you follow to fight it out for. Not great odds, especially given most people’s thought that San Jose will have a bounce-back year and most pundits predicting a good run for each of Minnesota and Arizona.
It’s gonna be a drag with the teams playing only in their divisions partly because of what you’re NOT going to see. No Ovechkin. No Crosby. No Montreal Canadiens (Corey Perry fans sigh and leave the room.) Another way to say that—no SoCal fan will see any team from the Original Six, with the passion and history that those teams carry, this year. Until the playoffs. But we just covered that.
On the flip side of that, four teams in this Division have won the Stanley Cup, and this Division represents four of the last 14 Cups (two for LA and one each for Anaheim and St. Louis) and six of those awarded since Colorado won it in 1996 and repeated in 2001.
It’s going to get boring watching the same teams over and over. I’m aware that there’s an argument out there that all these games, back-to-backs and stuff like that, breed rivalries. But even watching the Kings-Ducks tilts of the past couple of years (if memory serves, five games each year) has lost its lustre. The Freeway Faceoff ain’t what it used to be, and it has not sold out, at least in Anaheim, in recent days. And who wants to see Minnesota so much, just to pick a random example?
On the other hand, you’re going to get a really, really good look at some rising West stars, premiere amongst them Trevor Zegras of the Ducks and Quinton Byfield of the Kings. But you’d better be sharp at the start of the season. Rookies have only seven games allowed before being reassigned to Junior or the first year of their contract is burned. Usually that’s 10 games. And with teams playing every 2.1 days, that seven games will be up fast. The Ducks play game seven on January 26th, and the Kings face their seventh on the same night.
Speaking of that, you’re not gonna have a lot of nights off. The Ducks start January 14thand will have played 10 games by the end of the month. The Kings, oddly enough, start the same day but will have only eight games done by the end of January, including a gap of four days to end this month and begin February. They then have 14 games in February, where the Ducks have 13. If I remember aright, that month is the one with the 28 days. Right? That’s a lot of hockey in a short time.
But on the positive side, that sprint should keep us all tuned in. Baseball plays almost every day, so if you skip a week, you potentially skip a lot. Same applies for hockey this year. One week could be four games, and if a team goes on a slide, or gets hot, things will flip, fast.
Getting very local, you can see whether the plans that have been proffered by your two teams in the past year or so can be furthered. For the Ducks, that is bring up young guys, and the coach, from the AHL team, and let them develop together into NHL contenders. That got derailed for Dallas Eakins last year when March 11 was the final game until the summer, which the Ducks did not participate in. For the Kings, that plan is hire a sharp coach and see what he can do with a roster that is finally churning over to get in some new blood and sweep out the Stanley Cup heroes of 2012 and 2014. We would have known the answer to the question for each team, “Is this going to work?” had the season gone to its normal conclusion, though the playoffs might not have been in the cards even had it. Remember that the Kings were on a mini-tear as the league shut down, with their way of playing and their talent finally finding synchronicity for the first time in two or three seasons to net a seven-game winning streak. For the Ducks, the year was a bust, with the team never really finding consistency—so maybe a reset isn’t the worst thing.
You just never know, and, to cite a cliché, that’s why they play the games. You’ve heard a million times that St. Louis was last in the league in early January of 2019 and won the Cup later that spring. You also know that they came within a whisker of being eliminated in an early round of the playoffs. They prevailed. So who’s to say, really for sure, that one of your teams won’t?
Summer hockey is not, actually, a bad thing. Remember how it was to watch in July and August last year? FUN! And this year, hockey goes from this week to mid-July. Now, being realistic, and despite what I said above, you’re probably not going to be watching your team in late June and up to July 15thor 20thor whatever ends up happening. (You probably know there’s a bit of gap built into the schedule in case of Covid shutdowns.) But you’ll be watching some teams, and they’ll be the best ones remaining.
So even if we’re all still putting on our Zoom shirts, and working from the couch—uh, I mean that specially constructed spare bedroom office that I swear I use on a daily basis—when this campaign wraps up, we’ll have seen our game again. Just 56 times instead of 82, though perhaps as many as 28 times in the playoffs, which are four rounds of seven games, just as has been the custom for as long as most of us can remember.