NHL commissioner Gary Bettman held a press conference on Tuesday in which he announced details of the league’s plans to return to play. The league is ending the regular season from the date of the league suspending play on March 12. The league will advance immediately to a 24-team playoff, with the remaining teams in the NHL Draft lottery.
Bettman would not announce a specific date for the start of the playoffs because it depends on how testing and the pandemic move along in the coming weeks. However, the hope is to advance to phase 2 in early June at which point clubs could return to home facilities for voluntary, small-group, on- and off-ice training. If things progress from a health and safety standpoint, formal training camp would follow in phase 3, but that would be no earlier than July 1st.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
UPDATE: The league views the play-in qualifying games as a “special set of games” and not the actual playoffs, so technically this is still a 16-team playoff format.
NHL says the round-robin/play-in are considered Qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. And while this could still change, the NHL as of now considers that round a special set of games and not actual playoffs. So for record-keeping purposes, the playoffs weren't expanded from 16— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 26, 2020
The 24-team playoff would feature the top 12 teams in each conference, with the remaining teams entering the draft lottery. Two hub cities would host each conference, one for the east and one for the west. Bettman said there was a good chance one of those two hub cities would host the Stanley Cup finals.
Phase 4 would be the start of the tournament, and would feature conference-based round robin play for the top four teams, a qualifying round for the remaining teams, and then the playoffs featuring the 16 teams remaining after qualifying.
The top four teams in each conference would play a round-robin set-up to determine the top four seeds on each side, and then the eight teams after that in each conference would play best-of-five qualifying series. The top four round-robin would use regular season overtime rules, while the qualifying series would use playoff overtime rules. The breakdown is as follows
- #5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
- #6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
- #7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
- #8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets
- #5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks
- #6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes
- #7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild
- #8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets
There is still some determining to sort out a bracket based format for the qualifying round winners, or if it will simply be a matter of seeding. The first and second rounds of the playoffs would either be best-of-five or best-of-seven, but the owners and players are still sorting that out. There will definitely be a best-of-seven for the conference finals and Stanley Cup finals
The list of hub cities has been narrowed down to the following, with no specific date yet for announcing the hubs:
The biggest concerns for the time being surround Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. Canada requires people flying into the country to quarantine for 14 days. If that does not change between now and whenever the tournament is set to start, the Canadian cities would be unable to host.