NHL Unveils Plan To Return To The Ice, Playoffs Format & Draft Details

Sharpen the skates and ice down those pucks: The NHL is coming back.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said today that 24 of the league’s 31 teams will resume play — the top 12 from each conference based on points percentage when the regular season was halted on March 12 amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Phase 2 of the reopening plan — a return to club facilities for training in small groups — will begin in early June, but formal training camps won’t begin before July 1. Phase 4 will be in-conference round-robin games, playoff qualifying rounds and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Those dates are to be determined, but Bettman said.

But for record-keeping, end-of-season awards and such, the 2019-20 regular season is over, he said. The remaining seven teams will enter the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.

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“Obviously, we anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall,” the commissioner said. “At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances the needs of or players.”

The Western and Eastern conference each will be assigned a “host city” with “secure hotels, arena, practice facility and in-market transportation.” Among the host cities being considered are Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Columbus, OH.

“Things are evolving rapidly,” Bettman said, “and when we decide on locations, we want it to be based on the best available information at the time.”

The top four teams based on the final regular-season standings will play for first-round seeding. The remaining eight teams in each conference will play best-of-five series to advance to Round 1 of the playoffs. Then the league will stage a conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs in each hub city.

Other playoff details such as number of games for each of the first two rounds and seedings vs. bracket are to be determined, but the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a best-of-seven format.

“We believe we can get the qualifying and first two rounds of the playoffs completed in a little over a month,” Bettman said.

The National Hockey League iced its 2019-20 regular season on March 12, the same day as the NBA’s shutdown. Since then, its Return to Play Committee — made up of league officials and the NHL Players’ Association — has met to discuss the next steps toward resuming the season.

On Sunday, the NHL issued a 22-page memo to its players, teams, executives, and medical and training staff titled “Phased Return to Sport Protocol” (read it here). It outlined the framework for the league’s plan “that will govern players and clubs in ‘Phase 2,’ the transition period following ‘self-quarantine,’ as players are permitted to return to NHL club training facilities for voluntary small-group individualized training activities (on-ice and off-ice).”

The memo’s intro also stated:

Based on the current information available, we are now targeting a date in early June for a transition to Phase 2. However, it has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last. We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the Club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties. To better inform our decision-making, after reviewing the attached Protocol, we would like to hear from Clubs with respect to your ability to implement the required procedures and the estimated timing for your Club to be in a position to open up your training facility.

As we have stated repeatedly, the health of the Players and Club personnel is our top priority, and that will dictate how Phase 2, and any progression thereafter, may evolve. We again emphasize that Player participation in Phase 2 is strictly voluntary. In addition, Clubs are not permitted to require Players to return to the Club’s home city so they can complete a quarantine requirement in time to participate in Phase 2.

The league said on April 29 that it “might return to small group activities” in two to  four weeks, “provided that conditions continue to trend favorably.” And today’s news come two days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted all restrictions on pro sports teams’ activities, meaning they can begin their training camps en route to reopening.

While we wait for that first post-shutdown puck drop, here’s a little video the league put out last week spotlighting how families and young’uns enjoy the game:

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