CALGARY, Alberta — By the time the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks end their seasons, the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins will be well into the first round of their playoff series.
In another bizarre anomaly in an NHL season with a COVID-19 backdrop, Calgary and Vancouver will play each other three times next week while every other team in the league is either squaring off in the postseason or already done for the year.
Neither the Flames nor the Canucks made the playoffs and the results of their three games will only count toward where the clubs rank in the entry draft lottery (Vancouver also has to play the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday).
The Flames-Canucks games were put off earlier this season when a COVID-19 outbreak hit Vancucer and paused the team’s schedule for three weeks. So an NHL season that was originally going to end May 8 will finish with back-to-back meetings of the Canucks and Flames on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Playing out the string while other teams have already embarked on their Stanley Cup quest will be weird, Flames forward Milan Lucic said.
“Yes. Yes it will. Especially when they’re meaningless games,” he said, according to The Canadian Press.
Said Flames captain Mark Giordano: “With COVID, it’s a unique year. With the shutdown that happened in Vancouver, we knew this was a possibility for a while now. The league really doesn’t have much of a choice with the time frame.”
Calgary coach Darryl Sutter agreed the NHL doesn’t have the option of starting an already-delayed postseason until after Calgary and Vancouver are done.
“I think they’ve got to get it going not only for the interest part, but for TV,” Sutter said.
Vancouver’s closing schedule has seven games in 10 days, including five on the road. Saturday’s game in Edmonton has the Canucks playing a pair of back-to-backs with one day of rest in between.
“We’ve got to play the games and the schedule is what it is,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “But guys want to play. They don’t want to not play.”
Other than draft lottery position and scouting for next season, there are few incentives for the Flames and Canucks to keep playing into the middle of next week in empty arenas.
“The main reason why the league is forging ahead is because of the business operations side of things, trying to get as much of the pro-rated television and radio money as possible, be able to say to their sponsors that they got 56-82nds of a season in,” Vancouver-based sports marketing expert Tom Mayenknecht told CP.
Still, he noted it was confusing for fans to see Canucks-Flames playing amid a backdrop of playoff games.
“You really want fans to be focused on the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Mayenknecht said. “And I think this kind of dilutes what they’re putting into market.”