RALEIGH — Yes, the Carolina Hurricanes’ players voted against the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff plan. But with only the Tampa Bay Lightning joining them in what turned into an overwhelming 29-2 approval of the league’s path back to play, they’re ready to move on from the vote and look ahead to a unique — but still real — chance at a championship.
“When you have to win four (rounds) to win the Stanley Cup, I’m sure the Blues would tell you that it’s hard enough,” Hurricanes forward and team NHLPA representative Jordan Martinook said in a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday. “And then now that you’re going to have to win five. It’s just — it’s obviously hard, but it is what it is.
“We’re fine with the way that it’s going to go, and you’re going to have to win to win. So we’re fully prepared with what we got moving forward.”
The league, paused since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, has a 24-team plan would end the regular season and bring eight extra teams into the playoffs, with each conference’s top-four seeds earning a first-round bye while the other teams play five-game series that will essentially serve as a play-in to get to the normal 16-team bracket.
“It doesn’t really benefit the teams that are in five, six, seven and eight (seeds),” Martinook said in explaining Carolina’s opposition to the proposal. “So it kind of hinders those teams and then, obviously, gives a lot to the nine, 10, 11, and 12.”
Further complicating matters is the Hurricanes, who would be the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, would play the New York Rangers — a team Carolina was 0-4 against this season — in the opening round.
On top of the unfavorable matchup against a team that under normal circumstances would not have qualified for a playoff spot in a 16-team field, the Hurricanes (38-25-5 with 81 points through 68 games) wouldn’t have the normal home-ice advantage a higher seed would hold. The NHL is exploring different cities to serve as hubs for the games, and while Raleigh is among those being considered — Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner — the games will likely be played without fans present.
“Obviously, we wish we could play in front of our fans,” Martinook said. “And there was maybe one scenario kicked around if you delayed until September, maybe fans could come back. … (The current plan) didn’t really benefit our team really in any way.”
The league also took a small step forward with Monday’s announcement that it was close to beginning Phase 2 of its return plan, which would allow players to voluntarily return to team facilities and workout in small groups.
That leaves players with the difficult decision of when to return and whether or not those with spouses and children should bring them along.
“That’s been a cause for some stress and not fighting around my house, but definitely some conversations,” Martinook said. “I came back to Canada, so I would have to come back and do a 14-day self-isolation. And then, obviously, I’d be at the small groups at the rinks. And, I have a wife and a child, a small child. So I’m in kind of in-between if I should be bringing them back right away or if I should kind of feel it out.”
That said, Martinook and his teammates believe the league is making the return safe for players.
“I don’t think they would let us come back if it wasn’t. … I think safety is definitely the main key,” he said.
Despite the vote against the NHL’s plan, Martinook and the Hurricanes are in lockstep with the league and its teams on the need to return and make up some of the lost revenue during the pandemic.
“I think they’ve done their due diligence and hopefully we can come back and we can play,” Martinook said, “everybody can get through it safely, and we can try and give some people some something to cheer about.”