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Simulating The Season: What would happen if the NHL continued to play?

The NHL has postponed action indefinitely amid the coronavirus outbreak. But what would happen if the league continued to play behind closed doors? We'll attempt to find out through video game simulation.
EA Sports

EA Sports

On Thursday, the NHL pressed pause on the 2019-20 season. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the league acknowledged the best course of action was to suspend all hockey-related activities for the time being, and thus, beginning with last night’s games, the NHL is on hiatus.

But after the NBA’s Phoenix Suns made the decision to simulate and live-stream the remainder of their season on broadcasting platform Twitch, it got us wondering: what would happen if, at this time without NHL action, the league continued to play behind closed doors? The league was in the midst of the homestretch with teams jockeying for playoff positioning and a Western Conference wild-card race that was changing by the day. The post-season was only four weeks away. It was one of the most interesting periods of the campaign.

What we can’t know is how any of Thursday's games would have turned out. What we can do, however, is attempt to find out through the magic of video game simulation. Using EA Sports' NHL 20, myself and colleague Steven Ellis have simmed through the past two days' schedule – and will continue to simulate and update each days' games – through the end of the regular season or until the NHL's return to action. Of course, this is by no means a perfect science. In fact, the injury situation of each team isn't reflected in these simulations. The rosters used are updated to post-trade deadline status.

It should be said this exercise is in no way to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. Simply, the hope is for it to serve as a minor distraction from the events occurring around the world.

Here are the results:


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Ottawa Senators – 4
Chicago Blackhawks – 2

If the Blackhawks’ playoffs hopes weren’t already fading, Chicago is all but cooked now. Losses to the Red Wings and Senators in the span of one week leaves the Blackhawks nearly 10 points back of the second wild-card spot with 11 games remaining in the season. As for the Senators, it’s a nice win for their group, with Colin White and Jayce Hawryluk leading the way.

Three Stars
1. Craig Anderson, OTT (33 saves)
2. Colin White, OTT (1-1—2)
3. Jayce Hawryluk, OTT (1-0—0)

Vancouver Canucks – 3
Colorado Avalanche – 2

The big guns lead the way for the Canucks, with Elias Pettersson and the miraculously recovered Brock Boeser (ahem) putting up one goal and two points apiece. It’s an important win for the Canucks following their Thursday defeat at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes. The Canucks claw into the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Three Stars
1. Brock Boeser, VAN (1-1—2)
2. Elias Pettersson, VAN (1-1—2)
3. Tyson Jost, COL (1-0—0)

New York Islanders – 5 (SO)
Edmonton Oilers – 4

Andreas Athanasiou was outstanding, scoring twice for the Oilers, but his performance wasn’t enough for Edmonton to hold off the Islanders’ third period surge. Powered by Jordan Eberle’s pair and a two-assist night by Mat Barzal, New York slips by the Oilers in a shootout. Big win for the Islanders, who needed the points to avoid falling further behind in the wild-card race.

Three Stars
1. Andreas Athanasiou, EDM (2-0—2)
2. Jordan Eberle, EDM (2-0—2)
3. Nick Leddy, EDM (1-1—2)

San Jose Sharks – 2
St. Louis Blues – 1

A goaltending duel breaks out in St. Louis between Aaron Dell and Jordan Binnington, but the Stanley Cup-winning netminder is bested by the backup-turned-starter in San Jose. Dell’s 29-save performance earns him first-star honors. The Blues maintain their grasp on top spot in the Central Division thanks to the Canucks’ defeat of the Avalanche.

Three Stars
1. Aaron Dell, SJS (29 saves)
2. Tomas Hertl, SJS (1-0—1)
3. Jordan Binnington, SJS (22 saves)

Buffalo Sabres – 5
Boston Bruins – 4

A nice bounce-back for the Sabres, led by two-goal efforts from Jeff Skinner and...Curtis Lazar? The Bruins got no points from their famed top line, so that hurt. 

Three Stars
1. Jeff Skinner, BUF (2-1–3)
2. Curtis Lazar, BUF (2-1–3)
3. Zdeno Chara, BOS (0-2–2)


Minnesota Wild – 4
Vegas Golden Knights – 1

Eric Staal leads the way for the Wild with a two-goal, three-point performance at a crucial point in the season. The big two points help Minnesota keep pace in the Western Conference wild-card race.

Three Stars
1. Eric Staal, MIN (1-1—2)
2. Devan Dubnyk, MIN (34 saves)
3. Carson Soucy, MIN (1-0—1)

Montreal Canadiens – 4 (OT)
Buffalo Sabres – 3

The big guns stayed home for Montreal and the team’s depth to flourish. Dale Weise, Jacob Evans and Joel Armia contributed offensively while Victor Mete set up the tying and game-winning goals. 

Three Stars
1. Victor Mete, MTL (0-2–2)
2. Dale Weise, MTL (1-0–1)
3. Jacob Evans, MTL (1-0–1)

Arizona Coyotes – 3
Vancouver Canucks – 1

The Coyotes’ duo Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel help Arizona snap a two-game slide. Kessel scores a pair in the victory, while Hall has a goal and an assist. Antti Raanta stops 23 of the 24 shots that come his way and the Coyotes stay within striking distance of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Three Stars
1. Phil Kessel, ARI (2-1—3)
2. Taylor Hall, ARI (1-1—2)
3. Clayton Keller, ARI (0-2—2)

Columbus Blue Jackets – 4
Pittsburgh Penguins – 2

Not a high event game – just eight shots in the third period. The Blue Jackets held a 4-0 advantage after 33 minutes before Pittsburgh showed a bit of muscle in the second. Don’t count out Columbus.

Three Stars
1. Seth Jones, CBJ (2-0–2)
2. Gustav Nyquist, CBJ (1-1–2)
3. Pierre-Luc Dubois, CBJ (0-2–2)

Calgary Flames – 3 (OT)
New York Islanders – 2

Have yourself a night Mark Jankowski. The Flames pivot scores a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, as Calgary makes up some ground on the rival Edmonton Oilers in what could be a late-season battle for home-ice advantage in the first round.

Three Stars
1. Mark Jankowski, CGY (2-0—2)
2. Mat Barzal, NYI (1-1—2)
3. Mark Giordano, CGY (0-3—3)

Philadelphia Flyers – 4
Tampa Bay Lightning – 3

If you paid for the first period, you saw all the action. You also saw the Travis Konecny show, with two goals, two assists and a surprising six hits. Carter Hart had 19 saves in the second period.

Three Stars
1. Travis Konecny, PHI (2-2–4)
2. Ivan Provorov, PHI (1-1–2)
2. Sean Couturier, PHI (1-1–2)

Dallas Stars – 5
Florida Panthers – 3

The Stars’ struggling offense finally finds some life. After being shut out twice in their past five games, Dallas blasts five by Sergei Bobrovsky en route to a big win over Florida, who drops costly points in their pursuit of a playoff spot. The Panthers’ loss snaps a two-game winning streak.

Three Stars
1. Tyler Seguin, DAL (2-2—4)
2. Jamie Benn, DAL (1-1—2)
3. Aleksander Barkov, FLA (0-3—3)

New Jersey Devils – 4
Carolina Hurricanes – 3

A 3-0 deficit didn’t hold for the Hurricanes, who had a 21-shot advantage over the Devils. A two-goal night from Jack Hughes helped make it happen, but goalie Mackenzie Blackwood deserves credit for a two-assist night.

Three Stars
Justin Williams, CAR (2-0–2)
2. Jack Hughes, NJD (2-0–2)
3. Travis Zajac, NJD (1-0–1)

Toronto Maple Leafs – 3
Nashville Predators – 2

Paired with the Panthers’ loss, the Maple Leafs put a bit more ground between themselves and their closest Atlantic Division competition. The win pushes Toronto to 83 points on the season and five points clear of Florida, who still has a game in hand. Meanwhile, the Predators fail to secure their spot in the standings and remain in lockstep with the other wild-card outfits out West.

Three Stars
1. Auston Matthews, TOR (1-1—2)
2. Mitch Marner, TOR (1-1—2)
3. Kyle Turris, TOR (0-2—2)

Washington Capitals – 5
Detroit Red Wings – 2

An early 2-0 lead wouldn’t last for Detroit thanks to a classic performance from T.J. Oshie. Oshie had a part in all of Washington’s five goals in the third period and led the team with seven hits. Jimmy Howard still can’t catch a break in the Red Wings’ net.

Three Stars
1. T.J. Oshie WSH (3-2–5)
2. Brayden Holtby, WSH (26 saves)
3. Jakub Vrana, WSH (0-2–2)

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