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.
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Islanders
Toronto Maple Leafs
Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers
St. Louis Blues
Vegas Golden Knights
Teams that would not return
New Jersey Devils
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
Detroit Red Wings
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
(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
(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
(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
(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