Bubble Hockey in Review


The Lightning emerged victorious in the Stanley Cup Final, but everybody won due to the lack of COVID-19 cases in the NHL’s hub cities. (Courtesy of Twitter)

58 days, 33,174 COVID-19tests administered, 33,174 negative COVID-19 results and one team left standing at the end. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars on Monday night by a score of 2-0, capping off a dominant run to the Stanley Cup in which they went 18-7 including the round robin. The closest contest the Lightning had all summer long was the Conn Smythe race, won by defenseman Viktor Hedman, beating out Brayden Point’s 14 goals, Nikita Kucherov’s 27 assists and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 1.90 GAA, .927 Sv% and 1,709 minutes played. They were downright dominant throughout; they were deserving champions with a legitimate chance to repeat regardless of the format of the next season. 

The 2020 championship is their second in franchise history, but the first for this era of Tampa teams, who have been stalwarts in the Eastern Conference for many years. Their 2004 Cup with stars Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, coached by John Tortorella, was a generation ago. The Steven Stamkos era has been marred by playoff collapses and a loss to the Blackhawks in the 2015 Final. After last season’s disappointing sweep at the hands of Columbus after a phenomenal regular season, the Lightning were on a mission this year, and they completed it. 

Their opponent, the Dallas Stars, deserve props as well. The team came in with a career backup goalie who had never played in a postseason game before Aug. 1 and beat the two top teams in the West to get their first chance to play for the Stanley Cup since 2000. Rick Bowness stepped into an extremely tough situation after Jim Montgomery was let go and handled it with grace, coaching the team to a Conference Championship. 

As for the bubble itself, the National Hockey League provided the fewest cases across all of the professional leagues after their individual restarts. The NBA had guys leaving the bubble and a tester in a player’s room, the MLB looked like it was going off the rails in the first few weeks, the NFL is in the middle of its first bout with the coronavirus and the PGA tour struggled with a few cases at the beginning of their restart. But the NHL had no controversies and no positive tests through nine weeks of play. It was truly amazing every week when the league would announce another round of clean testing as other leagues crumbled around them. 

Next for the NHL lies the draft and free agency. The 2020 NHL Draft, originally scheduled in Montreal, will begin virtually on Oct. 6. The Rangers will draft first overall, the Devils seventh. The Islanders traded their first and second round picks for J.G. Pageau, making their first pick 90th overall. Free agency will begin on Oct. 9, with St. Louis Captain Alex Pietrangelo garnering the biggest attention in a free agent class that also includes Taylor Hall, Zdeno Chara, Mikko Koivu, Torey Krug, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Bobby Ryan, Brayden Holtby and many others. 

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on throughout the United States, the NHL continues to power through. After an impressive nine weeks, the league will now enter an offseason truly unlike anything they have ever faced. While still unsure of how next season will start, we as hockey fans should be grateful for getting the amazing product that the league showcased in the bubble.