The NHL has been negotiating a return to the ice with a 24-team playoff for a while, and today the league made it a reality when commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to the media live on NHL Network and NBCSN to give the latest update on restarting the season.
Bettman started the press conference by stating the league’s commitment to the health and safety of their players and staff. Of course, the NHL will have to wait for the go-ahead from the proper medical and government officials. But, the plan is for games to be played in two hub cities, one for the East and one for the West. Each team will be allowed only 50 personnel to travel and the amount of people allowed on the event level will be even less. The NHL hopes that in early June, players can return to their practice facilities but in limited small groups. Previously, they said that it will be no more than six players.
The third phase of returning will be a training camp that will hopefully start before July. Currently, the NHL is unable to give solid dates because of the virus and this includes the hub cities. The NHL did mention 10 potential cities that include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver. While St. Louis was mentioned earlier, that won’t be the case.
As had been reported, the top four teams in each conference will all have byes, including the Blues, and will play in a mini-tournament to decide the seeding for the top teams in each conference. Regular-season rules will apply in the tournament. The other teams will play a five-game series in what will be the first round. These teams will be seeded based on point percentage. One common concern is the seeding after the first round to determine who will play the teams that will have a bye and that is still being worked out. It is possible that the conference quarterfinals will be a best-of-five series, but the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a best-of-seven series as usual. All 24 teams that were rumored to be participating will be involved with each playing in their respective hub city. Bettman also laid out the draft lottery with an emphasis on the teams not playing getting an advantage to make sure they get the top picks they should deserve.
Bettman believes the league has taken all teams into account and while it is not perfect they have worked hard to find the best way to go about it for all teams. No dates have been set as there are still a lot of unknowns, but this is one of the biggest developments of the pandemic. Hockey will be coming back and Lord Stanley’s Cup will find a home at some point in 2020.