NHL unveils return-to-play format in the event season can resume

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto in running to serve as hubs

  • May. 26, 2020 1:30 p.m.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league and the NHL Players’ Association have agreed on a return-to-play format in the event the 2019-20 season can resume.

The 24-team plan would see the top-4 clubs the Eastern and Western Conference play two mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs.

The other eight teams in each conference would play best-of-five “play-in” series — No. 5 versus No. 12, No. 6 versus No. 11, No. 7 versus No. 10, and No. 8 versus No. 9 — to determine the 16 clubs left standing in the playoffs.

Bettman says the first- and second-round playoff matchups could be either best-of-five or best-of-seven series, but the conference finals and Stanley Cup final will be best-of-seven.

“Obviously these are extraordinary and unprecedented times,” Bettman said. “Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect. I am certain that depending on which team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently. But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that as a practical matter, might have had a chance (at) qualifying for the playoffs when the season was pause.

“This plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the post-season gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”

Tuesday’s announcement is an important step in the league’s bid to restart the season, which was suspended March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but does not guarantee a return to action.

The NHL and its players still have plenty of work to do, including receiving the go-ahead from government and health officials, timing, the location of hub cities, testing procedures and ensuring the safety of everyone involved.

The union’s executive board — made up of a player representative from each team — approved the 24-club format mapped out by the NHL/NHLPA’s Return To Play Committee in a vote Friday. Bettman says the NHL’s board of governors also gave the thumbs up to the format this week.

“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel,” Bettman said. “We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know what’s appropriate and prudent, and are approved to do so.”

Bettman said the league wants to have two cities serve as hubs for each conference — without fans in attendance — adding that 10 remain on the short list, including Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.

The NHL also announced the format for its draft lottery, which will be held June 26 for the seven teams outside the 24-club plan.

The league announced Monday it hopes to move to Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol, including the opening of team facilities and allowing groups of up to six players on the ice at one time under strict guidelines, early next month. Phase 3 would be training camps, while Phase 4 would be the resumption of play.

Bettman said training camps won’t start before July 1.

The NHL playoffs traditionally involve eight teams from each conference, with the winner having to navigate four best-of-seven series following a full schedule. The 2019-20 campaign was halted in March with 189 games remaining, and teams having played an uneven number of contests. The league has said it wants to ensure a full 82-game schedule in 2020-21.

The Cup has been awarded every year since 1893, save for 1919 because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005 when a lockout led to the cancellation of the entire campaign.

Under the 24-team plan, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia would compete for the No. 1 slot in the East, while defending Cup champions St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas would do the same out West.

The East’s best-of-five “play-in” series would see Pittsburgh versus Montreal, Carolina versus the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders versus Florida, and Toronto versus Columbus.

Montreal, the 12th seed, sat with a paltry 71 points from 71 games — including just 19 regulation wins — when the season was paused amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In the West, the best-of-five matchups would include Edmonton versus Chicago, Nashville versus Arizona, Vancouver versus Minnesota, and Calgary versus Winnipeg.

The four winners of the best-of-five matchups in each conference would then be pitted against the top-4 seeds.

The seven teams on the outside looking in — Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit — now all face an off-season that could stretch into next fall or early winter.

According to the website sportsclubstats.com, Montreal, which sat 10 points back of the East’s second wild-card spot on March 12, had a zero per cent chance of making the usual 16-team playoff field at the time of the pause. In the West, Chicago’s chances sat at 2.6 per cent, while Arizona was at 16.6 per cent.

Toronto defenceman Tyson Barrie conceded last week any format would have flaws.

“In a time like this how can anything be super traditional?” he said. “The integrity will be there because it’s still going to be the best players in the world playing against each other for the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

“It will certainly be weird without fans or whatever the scenario unfolds to be, but I think we all have to adapt.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read