NHL Taking Steps To Return
The National Hockey League has been shut down since March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there is hope that the league will be able to return to play in July.
Like other leagues, the NHL has been monitoring the situation closely, and they have made a formal announcement of what a return to play might look like.
Commissioner Gary Bettman made a formal announcement earlier this week and outlined how the league planned to finish the season. The rest of the regular season has been canceled, and the league will be adopting a new playoff format this season.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs usually have 16 teams, eight teams from each conference. The league will have 24 teams in the 2020 NHL Playoffs, with four additional teams being added to the field from each conference.
Bettman also announced that all stats would be frozen as of March 11 and that voters should consider those stats when voting for regular season awards. Division winners will be crowned, and the league will use the current standings when determining the playoff seeds for the new format.
The top four seeds in each conference will essentially earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, but they will still be competing. The four teams will compete in a round-robin style tournament to determine the top four seeds in each conference.
If there are any ties after these games are completed, the league will break the ties based on current regular-season points.
The remaining eight teams from each conference, seeds five through 12, will go head to head in best-of-five playoff series to determine which teams will advance to the field of 16. The league has yet to decide if the teams will be reseeded for that round, or if they will keep them in their current position in the bracket.
Bettman pointed out that the league is still discussing the length of the second round of the playoffs, but the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals will be best-of-seven game series.
More To Do
Now that the league has announced its playoff format, Bettman and other executives can begin focusing on selecting a city for these games. The NHL will be choosing two cities to serve as a “hub,” with each conference being relocated to one of these cities.
There are several sites in the United States that are being considered as well as a few major cities in Canada. These locations will serve as the practice and game sites for the remainder of the season, and all players and team personnel will be forced to stay in these locations until they are eliminated or the season ends.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association are still working to come to an agreement on health and safety protocols, which included testing for COVID-19. The league is expected to be aggressive in its testing policy, but it is unclear how often a player will need to be tested.
Bettman also announced that the league is expected to enter Phase 2 of their return-to-play plan on Monday. In this phase, teams can begin calling their players back to their local markets, and individual training sessions can take place. Players can train in groups of six, but no coaches or other team personnel are allowed to be on the ice.
Phase 3 of the plan is not expected to come until the early part of July, and it is during this phase that training camps can begin to take place. The league is hopeful of resuming games by the end of July, but there are still many hurdles to climb before that happens.
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