The NHL is taking concrete steps toward resuming the 2019-20 season and eventually awarding the Stanley Cup.
An important step came Tuesday afternoon when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced a 24-team return-to-play format.
Here are the basics of the 24-team format:
A total of 10 cities are being considered for the two hub cities that will host the remainder of the season.
10 cities are being considered for the two hub city spots that will host the Stanley Cup Playoffs. pic.twitter.com/bMLxSCvpRW— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 26, 2020
Here's the timeline in the return to play plan, per the league:
--Phase 2: Early June
In early June, it is expected that teams will be permitted to return to home facilities for small group, voluntary, and on- and off-ice training.
--Phase 3: Not Earlier than First Half of July
Not earlier than first half of July, formal training camps will begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities.
--Phase 4: Timing TBD
24 teams in 2 “hub” cities will compete in Seeding Round Robins, a Qualifying Round and Conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Now, let's talk about the playoffs.
The top 12 teams in each conference based on points percentage will resume play.
The top four teams in each conference automatically clinch a berth to the first round of the playoffs and will play round-robin games to determine their playoff seeding for the first round. Regular season overtime/shootout rules will apply to these round robin games, and any ties will be broken by regular season points percentage.
The remaining eight teams in each conference will play in a Best-of-5 qualifying round. The four winners will advance to the first round of the playoffs. These qualifying round games will be played using playoff overtime rules.
Here are matchups for the Eastern Conference, followed by the Western Conference:
A look at the Eastern Conference Playoff Picture - outlined by the NHL Return to Play Plan.— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 26, 2020
The TOP 4 seeds in each conference will play a Round Robin tournament to decide seeding. pic.twitter.com/69TZ00WXfr
A look at the Western Conference Playoff Picture - outlined by the NHL Return to Play Plan.— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 26, 2020
The TOP 4 seeds in each conference will play a Round Robin tournament to decide seeding. pic.twitter.com/DvEvhx4XiY
Here are some other important playoff details:
--When the qualifying round is over, the remaining rounds will be set up using a bracket format, or each round will be determined by seeding. A decision on which style to use hasn't been made yet.
--The first and second rounds of the playoffs could be a Best-of-5 or a Best-of-7. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a Best-of-7.
The 24-team format means the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings are done for the 2019-20 season.
Given the unique nature of the situation, there isn't one format that would benefit all 31 teams, but what the league announced Tuesday is a pretty good plan toward finishing the season and crowning a champion.
Plenty of other details must be sorted out before games can resume, but this announcement is a positive step.