It’s been two months since the NHL paused the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there’s been a wide range of opinions: should it be resumed, how would it resume, what would the playoffs look like and where would the games be played.
For now, everything is still up in the air. The NHL has reportedly floated a possible 20 or 24-team playoff format as it’s looking increasingly unlikely the regular season will be completed. Regardless of how it’s done, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford is holding steadfast that a Stanley Cup champion should be crowned in 2020.
“It’s going to be a different format. I think there’s no question about that,” the two-time Stanley Cup champion with the LA Kings said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “But, you know, it’s the greatest feeling, other than having your children born. It’s definitely the greatest experience in my life and I’ve been fortunate enough to win two. I think it only makes you hungrier to win another one.
“I know, speaking with the guys on our team, we have a young team and you know they’re hungry, they want it, they want it for the City of Toronto bad. It’s been 50-something years since they’ve won and I don’t think it’d be any greater feeling and then take it down those streets in Toronto for a parade.”
Clifford, who was traded to Toronto on Feb. 6, is looking to help the Leafs get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. He’ll have reinforcements as the third-place Atlantic Division squad would arguably be the healthiest it’s been all season. Expected to return to the lineup are defenseman Jake Muzzin and forward Ilya Mikheyev.
“We look at our group and we like our chances,” he noted from Muskoka, Ont. “We know it’s not going to be easy but at the same time there’s an exciting group here and I think we just want to get back playing and, you know, obviously do it in a safe manner. But I think the team’s hungry to get back playing and the fans are hungry for us to get back playing.”
Since the pause, the NHL and NHLPA have teamed up and formed a Return to Play Committee. The group, which includes the Leafs’ John Tavares, keeps the union informed on the latest updates.
“There’s a lot of unknowns out there still and I think they’re trying to be best prepared for when we do get the green light to get going and what’s the best way of doing that to keep the integrity of the Stanley Cup,” Clifford mentioned, adding that he’d like his family in attendance if he were to drink from the Stanley Cup one more time.
“Just speaking with the guys on our team and there’s a real strong appetite to get playing no matter the circumstances.”
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As time moves towards the chances of lacing them up again, Clifford believes the biggest challenge is making sure players get ample time to get back into hockey shape and prevent injuries after this extended period of no skating. The 2019-20 season is also Clifford’s final year under contract as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent after the season.
“You know what, my job is to just stay ready for when we do get the call to play and, obviously, it is a contract year, last year of my contract but that’s not my focus,” Clifford said. “My focus is to be ready to play and compete for a Stanley Cup when we do get back to playing and the rest of it will just take care of itself.”
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