The National Hockey League is still almost two months away from holding any live games, but the potential return to play plan is starting to take shape. Commissioner Gary Bettman made a formal announcement on Tuesday to update the sports world on the status and plans from the league.
If the 2019-20 NHL season is able to resume in July, the league is going to abandon the remainder of the regular season and head straight into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a huge event for sports fans, but this year’s version will look a little bit different.
Traditionally, the NHL Playoffs are made up of the top eight teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences. This year, the NHL is going to expand the playoff field to 24 teams and will add a “play-in” round before the round of 16 begins.
This plan was proposed to representatives from every team in the league, and a vote was taken before the plan was announced. Only two the 31 teams in the league voted against the proposal from Bettman: the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Giving Bubble Teams A Chance
The NHL has several reasons for expanding the playoff field to 24 teams this year. The biggest reason is that the playoff races were close in both conferences, and it wouldn’t be fair to keep out the teams that were just on the bubble.
The league also wanted the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks to be a part of the field, as they are two of the biggest markets in the league.
Under this new plan, the top four seeds in each conference will compete in a round-robin tournament to determine the order of the seeding. If there are any ties in the round-robin tournament, the league will break the ties by using the current NHL standings that have been frozen since March 11.
The other eight teams from each conference, seeds 5-12, will compete in best-of-five series to determine which teams move on to the field of 16. The league has yet to determine if teams will be reseeded before that round takes place, and they have also yet to decide if that will be a five or seven games series.
The Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals will both be best-of-seven game series, which is the traditional format. Usually, the two teams will alternate home-ice advantage in these games, but that will not be the case this year.
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Deciding On Hubs
Bettman also announced that the league is still considering several cities as “hubs,” and these locations will host all of the practices and games for the remainder of the season. Players and team personnel will have to relocate to the two cities that are chosen, and they will have to self-quarantine before the games are able to begin.
Even though the league now has a playoff structure in place, there are still several other issues that must be negotiated between the league and the NHL Players Association. Health and safety protocols, as well as testing procedures, are the main issues that still need to be worked out.
The league also announced that Monday will mark the beginning of Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan. That means that teams can start to call players back to their local markets, and they can open up their facilities for training sessions.
Phase two will allow a maximum of six players to train at one time, but coaches and other team personnel are not allowed to be in attendance. Phase 3 of the plan will allow training camps to resume, but the league will not move into this phase until at least July.