The NHL has taken a major step towards resuming its season. On Tuesday, Commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled the league’s official format to return to play, which would commence with playoffs rather than completing any remaining regular season games.
A 24-team playoff format is in store for the league that will see the top four teams in both the Eastern and Western Conference will play each other in a Round Robin to determine seedings. The remaining eight teams in each conference will play a best-of-five Qualifying Round. Bettman has confirmed that both the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals will be a best-of-seven series but the format of prior rounds are yet to be determined.
“Obviously, these are extraordinary and unprecedented times. Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect. And I am certain that, depending on which team you root for or which team you cover, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently,” Bettman said. “But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that, as a practical matter, might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused. And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”
Hockey won’t resume without the green light from government and medical authorities, but the NHL is taking safety precautions seriously. Comprehensive testing systems will be put in place to ensure health and safety, while teams are limited to 50 personnel – including players and coaches.
“I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount,” Bettman said. “While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so. “Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible. And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.”
As for when and where play might begin, nothing is officially set. After hinting that as many as nine locations could be used, Bettman announced that playoffs will occur in two hub cities – one per conference. Many are said to be in consideration both in the U.S. and Canada, but official locations are yet to be determined. Bettman is hoping to roll out Phase 2 of the league’s plan to return in early June, which would allow players to return to their team’s market and participate in voluntary workouts at facilities. Phase 3 would likely follow weeks later to begin formal training while the fourth and final phase would see competition begin.
Stay tuned here for more updates on the NHL’s return and see the playoffs’ Qualifying Round match-ups below.
Bye Teams: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets
Bye Teams: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks
No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets