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NHL coaches expect playoff experience to be less of factor in Qualifiers

Bubble makes everybody 'kind of a rookie,' Hurricanes' Brind'Amour says

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Rod Brind'Amour has a theory about Stanley Cup Playoff experience and how much it will matter this season.

"In a perfect world, you would say that's a big deal," the Carolina Hurricanes coach said. "I think, though, in this situation, I really think everybody is kind of a rookie because we just don't know how it's going to affect you going out there not having that emotion."

This season, of course is not perfect. Due to the coronavirus pandemic that caused the NHL season to be paused March 12, this postseason will be played in hub cities Toronto and Edmonton, with no fans in the arenas.

Other than the remaining Eastern Conference teams moving to Edmonton from Toronto for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, there will be no travel. Instead it will be mandatory hotel living, with players guided by a fencing system whenever they go outside. No chance to go home. No chance to see your family or loved ones, except virtually. 

All while being tested daily for COVID-19 with regular temperature and symptom checks.

"What makes playoff hockey so great is the emotion of it, the energy in the buildings. It wows you at times," said Brind'Amour, whose team will play the New York Rangers in one of the eight best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series. "That's where experience can help you. If that's not in the building, I don't know how much experience is going to really matter, at least early on."

The tournament will start Aug. 1 with eight teams in each conference paired in four best-of-5 series to determine who will join the top four teams in the first round of the playoffs. The top four teams in each conference will compete in a round-robin to determine the top four seeds.

The losers of each series will have an equal chance to win the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on Aug. 10.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he is unsure if younger teams will have an advantage in this unique postseason format. 

"Who is the young team that just comes in and doesn't really care? The older experienced team that has kind of weathered through adversity before, I can't sit here and say which one is going to be better off," Cooper said. "But in anything, I guess if you're going to break it down into life circumstances, experience always helps. So, if you've experienced playing through adversity, that's probably going to help you."

That's mainly where coaches and players feel playoff experience will matter: when the game is being played. 

"If it's a 3-2 hockey game with 10 minutes to go, playoff experience is going to matter regardless of how many people are in the stands," Rangers coach David Quinn said. "But I don't think it's going to matter as much. I don't think it's going to have as big of an impact as it usually does."

Nor will momentum at the start of the Qualifiers, Nashville Predators captain Roman Josi said.

"It almost feels like it's a new season, kind of like the beginning of the season but you're preparing for playoffs," Josi said. "I think the experience definitely matters, but it's a whole new situation and nobody is coming out of the regular season. So even for guys who have been in a lot of playoff games and playoff series, they'll be different."

Life around the games, outside the arena, will require an adjustment too.

"It'll be a little more of a challenge," Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I think it has to be when you're isolated as much as we will be, compared to what you typically would be. There's going to be the mental challenge of digging in every day."

Cassidy also wondered what it will be like if a team wraps up a series quickly and has to wait to start the next round.

"Typically, at home you'll find something to do, you'll stay busy," Cassidy said. "In a bubble, that's going to require a little more discipline. The teams that are able to handle those challenges best will probably have a leg up on the other teams."

Brind'Amour said he wonders if situations like that might be easier on the younger players because their home lives are different than many of the older players.

"The young guys that don't have families and have less pulling them away will benefit more," Brind'Amour said. "Early on that won't be a factor. Teams, hopefully us, that play long into this, then all of that comes into play."

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson said, "Anything typical has been kind of thrown out the window for the next few months. You're going to have to adjust, adapt. At the end of the day, we'll be with 20 of our best buddies and we'll be going through it together. I guess it will be like a big field trip."

To somewhere new, different, almost like going to Mars, joked former NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider, the special assistant to the executive director of the NHL Players' Association. 

It will level the playing field between young and old, experienced vs. inexperienced, New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz said.

"As a series goes on, there's different pressures and those different pressures are those experiences that you garner through playoff victory victories and defeats, and how you handle certain pressures is where the experience starts to kick in," Trotz said. "The early part, though, I don't think so at all. Everybody's going to be in a new experience."

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