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BenFred: NHL proposal might not guarantee Blues a top seed, but that might not be so bad

BenFred: NHL proposal might not guarantee Blues a top seed, but that might not be so bad

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Blues take on Colorado Avalanche

St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington watches a puck sail past his head and hit the post during the second period of the St. Louis Blues game against the Colorado Avalanche at the Enterprise Center on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. Photo by Troy Stolt, tstolt@post-dispatch.com

Dear Blues fans, don’t be those fans.

You know the ones.

They are out there, grumbling about the chance their team could be shorted by the plan the NHL finalizes to salvage the 2020 season.

If Blues fans are doing this, they’re wrong.

And not just because any hockey is good hockey on the other side of this coronavirus shutdown.

They are wrong because the potential format that irks them could help the Blues as much as it might hurt them.

The NHL Players’ Association began discussing a rather important part of a return-to-action proposal Thursday night, and on Friday night announced those discussions will continue after the approval of a 24-team postseason structure. “Several details remain to be negotiated,” read an important line in the press release. One of those is seeding. More on that in a moment.

We still don’t know if the league will launch. That will require coronavirus not spoiling things. Important specifics – like testing protocols – will still have to be approved by the players before training camps begin. And before games start, it has to be decided where these games will be played.

But for just a moment, we can focus on the games, and why the Blues and their fans should feel pretty good about this structure, even if it doesn’t secure the Blues’ No. 1 seed. Especially if it doesn’t, actually.

If the entire proposal is accepted eventually, the regular season would be over because only 24 teams would return to action. But the Stanley Cup playoffs would not start right away. Not really.

While the four teams with the highest points percentage in each conference would secure the top-four seeds and play one another in round-robin fashion, the other teams would play series that determined who would break through to meet the top four seeds in the traditional 16-team, seven-game playoff structure.

It’s the NCAA basketball tournament on ice, more or less.

Call it July Madness.

Just don’t get mad if that round-robin between the top teams is turned up a notch by having them compete for seeds.

The Blues would start a round-robin seeding showdown in sole possession of the No. 1 seed. It would be theirs to lose. And lose it, they could, potentially. There’s a chance they could fall as far as the No. 4 seed, if the proposal includes no insurance for the higher-ranked teams.

This notion upsets some. I get it. The Blues earned that No. 1 seed during the 71 games they played over the regular season. One round-robin could rob it? Critics can argue it would be better if the Blues entered the 16-team, best-of-seven series grind toward the Cup with the top seed guaranteed.

But consider what that would mean. This approach would leave the Blues sitting around waiting, or playing games that counted for nothing, while the teams beneath them used the play-in rounds to build up a full head of steam toward the postseason. No thanks. Rust is real. Especially after a layoff this long.

Fighting for their seed would give the Blues a chance to gear up in a competitive setting against the teams they have a good chance of meeting again when elimination, not seeding, is on the line.

The Blues are a combined 7-2-3 against the three teams they would be jostling with for the most desirable seeds: Colorado, Las Vegas and Dallas. They have thumped Dallas (4-0-1) this season, split with Colorado (2-2) and have matched Las Vegas in goals scored and allowed (13) in three games that included one regulation win and two overtime losses.

Personally, I like the idea of goalie Jordan Binnington getting a feel for each opponent he could meet later. Specifically Colorado. The Avalanche rocked Binnington in his last two starts at Colorado, both Blues losses. This format would guarantee Binnington one series against the Avalanche with playoff-like pressure on the line. That’s good, even if it affects the Blues’ seed.

One look at last season’s bracket reminds us how fast top seeds – Tampa and Nashville, anyone? – can disappear. No playoff road is easy, and sometimes the harder one becomes easier. Here’s an example.

If the Blues hold their top seed, they would face either Calgary or Winnipeg in their first seven-game elimination series. They’ve beaten Calgary three times in three games, but they’ve split their four meetings with Winnipeg, losing each of the most recent two.

Compare that to the seven-game series the Blues would get if they dropped — gasp — all the way to the No. 4 seed. The Blues would face either Edmonton or Chicago if that happened. They’re 2-1 against the Oilers and 4-0 against the rival Blackhawks. Not so bad.

Chaos will occur. It always does. Even more reason to hope the Blues get a jolt of competition from the jump. Berube’s Blues find another gear when it matters most, and they get better the longer they keep the pedal down.

That characteristic led to a No. 3 seed losing back-to-back games just twice — and not once in their final 15 games — during their 26-game march to last season’s championship.

So, don’t sweat the seed. Just hope we get a chance to enjoy the chaos.

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