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Stanley Cup playoffs 2020: Everything we know about the NHL’s potential resumption

The NHL Players’ Association’s executive board on Friday night voted in favor of further negotiations with the NHL regarding a 24-team return-to-play format.

Translation? There’s still a lot to be ironed out, but one thing appears to be more and more definite: a 2020 Stanley Cup champion will be crowned.

When it’ll happen is still in flux because of such things as location, coronavirus testing, the U.S.-Canada border closures, limited access from Europe and mandatory 14-day quarantines to anyone entering Canada.

Regardless of those variables, the NHL and the NHLPA, through their joint Return to Play Committee, are working together for summer hockey. The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont reported Thursday (subscription required) that the Bruins may be able to get back on the ice, albeit in small groups, by June 1 under Phase 2 of the league’s reopening protocols, with the playoffs starting July 1. Other outlets reported Friday that it’s more likely games will start in late July.

Here’s everything we know so far about the NHL’s potential return to the ice:

How many teams would return?

As reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on May 20, the league, the players and the Return to Play Committee are zeroing in on a 24-team playoff.

John Carlson, speaking on @LunchTalkNBCSN, not a huge fan of the reported 24-team playoff format: “24 teams sounds like a lot of teams to me if I’m being honest.”

— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 21, 2020

The top 24 teams based on points percentage — teams had not all played the same number of games when the season was paused on March 12 — would be seeded 1-12 in each conference. Seven teams would not resume play and would then enter the draft lottery.

Eastern Conference

SEED
TEAM
RECORD
PTS. PCT.
1
Boston Bruins
44-14-12
.714
2
Tampa Bay Lightning
43-21-6
.657
3
Washington Capitals
41-20-8
.652
4
Philadelphia Flyers
41-21-7
.645
5
Pittsburgh Penguins
40-23-6
.623
6
Carolina Hurricanes
38-25-5
.596
7
New York Islanders
35-23-10
.588
8
Toronto Maple Leafs
36-25-9
.579
9
Columbus Blue Jackets
33-33-15
.579
10
Florida Panthers
35-26-8
.565
11
New York Rangers
37-28-5
.564
12
Montreal Canadiens
31-31-9
.500

Western Conference

SEED
TEAM
RECORD
PTS. PCT.
1
St. Louis Blues
42-19-10
.662
2
Colorado Avalanche
42-20-8
.657
3
Vegas Golden Knights
39-24-8
.606
4
Dallas Stars
37-24-8
.594
5
Edmonton Oilers
37-25-9
.585
6
Nashville Predators
35-26-8
.565
7
Vancouver Canucks
36-27-6
.565
8
Calgary Flames
36-27-7
.564
9
Winnipeg Jets
37-28-6
.563
10
Minnesota Wild
35-27-7
.558
11
Arizona Coyotes
33-29-8
.529
12
Chicago Blackhawks
32-30-8
.514

Teams that would not return

TEAM
RECORD
PTS. PCT.
Buffalo Sabres
30-31-8
.493
New Jersey Devils
28-29-12
.493
Anaheim Ducks
29-33-9
.472
Los Angeles Kings
29-35-6
.457
San Jose Sharks
29-36-5
.450
Ottawa Senators
25-34-12
.437
Detroit Red Wings
17-49-5
.275

How would the playoffs work?

Brackets! Who doesn’t love a bracket?

In the proposed format, there would an NCAA-style bracket without any reseeding.

According to Friedman, the top four seeds in each conference would receive byes and the “play-in series” would be a best-of-five format.

Eastern Conference opening-round series

MATCHUP
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference opening-round series

MATCHUP
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Once these series are decided and the Stanley Cup playoffs are down to the traditional 16 teams, the four teams that received byes would then enter the bracket for a best-of-seven series.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Thursday that the four top teams could play in a mini-round-robin tournament of their own to determine final seeding.

If the seeding remains the same for those four teams, then this is how the Round of 16 would shake out — and, yes, that could mean a Maple Leafs-Bruins “first-round matchup.”

Eastern Conference second-round series

MATCHUP
(1) Boston Bruins vs. winner of Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. winner of Islanders-Panthers
(3) Washington Capitals vs. winner of Hurricanes-Rangers
(4) Philadelphia Flyers vs. winner of Penguins-Canadiens

Western Conference second-round series

MATCHUP
(1) St. Louis Blues vs. winner of Flames-Jets
(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. winner of Canucks-Wild
(3) Vegas Golden Knights vs. winner of Predators-Coyotes
(4) Dallas Stars vs. winner of Oilers-Blackhawks

Where will the games be held?

“Hub cities” is the magic word in sports right now and the NHL appears to be following that path. With the majority of NHL cities either a COVID-19 hotspot or under a ban on public gatherings through the summer, it is becoming more apparent this is the route the league needs to take.

According to reports, the NHL has received bids from multiple teams including Columbus, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. In the “hub city” players would be quarantined to minimize the possibility of infection. 

TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted Thursday that the Oilers’ hometown is rolling out the red carpet for the NHL — offering up everything from golf courses to a colder, more hockey-centric climate.

Curious what NHL players think about this? Edmonton is rolling out an impressive “lifestyle” presentation in its Hub city quest. Secured golf course. Cool temps. Outdoor big screens for movies/other games. Some fun stuff planned. More tonight in Insider Trading.

— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 21, 2020

Will fans be able to attend?

Probably not. The league has looked into it but the complications are massive. 

The NHL and teams have done social distancing models for people in seats…most arenas, based on people being 6 feet apart in every direction…would only be able to host 2000 to 2500 fans at a game. A bit of a non-starter.

— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) May 20, 2020

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