NHL Plans to Restart Season with 24-Team Playoff Format
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The NHL will return with a 24-team playoff format in two “hub” cities, league commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday.
Teams are expected to hold training camps, which is Phase 3 of the reopening plan, no earlier than July 1 with games conceivably starting later in the month or early August. The Stanley Cup Finals could end in September after Labor Day.
The regular season is officially over, Bettman said. He also said that the plan is not a guarantee that games are coming back and that no dates will be set until medical and government experts give approval.
”I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players … is paramount,” Bettman said, adding that fans overwhelmingly want the NHL to return.
The qualifying round of the NHL playoffs will consist of 16 teams playing a best-of-five play-in round. The top four seeds in each conference receive byes from the qualifying round, but would still play a round-robin tournament to determine seeding.
Some sportsbooks, like SuperBookUSA, have tweeted that it will be offering refunds on NHL regular-season prop bets since it will not be continued.
The qualifying round will involve seeds 5 through 12. The next rounds could be best-of-five (that’s still being negotiated), with the conference finals best-of-seven games, followed by the Stanley Cup Finals.
As fans of NHL betting know, the season was shut down on March 12, less than a month before the playoffs were scheduled to begin, because of the coronavirus. The Stanley Cup Finals would normally end in June.
The league on Monday said the start date of Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol would be in early June, according to the Associated Press. The phase includes opening team practice facilities and allowing small, voluntary group workouts on and off the ice.
As states have started easing their stay-at-home orders, mainstream sports are beginning to return without fans. NASCAR and UFC have been holding races and events for several weeks and major European soccer leagues are starting to return. Golf just had back-to-back weekends with charity skins games with plans to resume the full PGA Tour on June 11.
The executive board of the NHL Players' Association cleared the way for the league’s return when it approved the 24-team playoff format last week, according to ESPN. Increasing the playoff teams from 16 to 24 was pushed by the NHL to ensure that teams on the playoff bubble when the season was postponed had a chance to compete.
The @NHL has released a Return to Play Plan for the 2019-20 season.— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
◾ 24 teams to compete for #StanleyCup
◾ 2 hub cities will host games
◾ Protocol for return to training
◾ Draft Lottery
Full Details: https://t.co/JGXioEC4FA pic.twitter.com/3KoUjPRsq4
What The Playoffs Will Look Like
The top four seeds in each conference based on the standings (Eastern Conference — Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers; Western Conference — St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars) earned byes.
The NHL’s return to play committee is still deciding whether playoffs will go by bracket or seeding.
Here’s what the Eastern Conference qualifying bracket possibly could look like after those top four seeds:
- Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)
- Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)
- New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
Here’s what the Western Conference qualifying bracket possibly could like after those top four seeds:
- Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
- Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
- Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10)
- Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)
Some Issues Still Need to Be Worked Out
Chief among the issues that still need to be resolved are health and safety protocols and where the teams would play. Bettman said the league will choose two cities to serve as the hubs.
Las Vegas has long been considered the top place for one of the sites. It has the hotels and an arena, T-Mobile Arena, near the accommodations. Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver are other possibilities to host games.
Each conference will be assigned to one hub city having enough hotels, practice facilities and transportation available.
In addition, testing and travel issues still need to be resolved.
The seven teams whose seasons will end without the playoffs (in alphabetical order):
- Anaheim Ducks (29-33-9, 67 points)
- Buffalo Sabres (30-31-8, 68 points)
- Detroit Red Wings (17-49-5, 39 points)
- Los Angeles Kings (29-35-6, 64 points)
- New Jersey Devils (28-29-12, 68 points)
- Ottawa Senators (25-34-12, 62 points)
- San Jose Sharks (29-36-5, 63 points)
The late playoffs could push the start of the 2020-21 season into January — it usually starts in early October — or when fans can return to arenas.