The NHL has taken a historic first step towards sports resuming post-COVID-19 pandemic by unveiling their return to play plan. The NHL is the first of the four major U.S. sports leagues to announce a concrete proposal for how the sport will return.
But what exactly was in the plan? Here are the highlights.
First, there is no set date or location. The NHL didn't want to lock in those details in a fluid situation as local and state government regulations evolve. But Bettman suggested mid-July as the earliest possible return date.
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The NHL will have two host cities host each conference’s side of the bracket. Bettman noted 10 cities are being considered, including Chicago.
Teams will be seeded by points percentage. Not total points accrued when the season shut down because not every team has played the same amount of games.
Each conference will have 12 teams in the playoff. The top four seeds will play in a Round Robin to determine seeding, with regular season overtime rules. The remaining eight teams will play a best-of-five series to advance to the first round, with playoff overtime rules.
Bettman noted there was a desire to not give the top four seeds in each conference a bye and a presumably big advantage, but also didn't want to disadvantage them too much. Which is where the round robin idea came from, each team playing three games.
The Blackhawks are the 12th seed in the Western Conference and will match up against the fifth seed, the Edmonton Oilers. The top four seeds in the West are, in order: St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas.
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Overall seeding will determine how advancing teams will match up against the top four seeds. Bettman noted that the players prefer re-seeding, while the league prefers bracketing. How Qualifying Round winners and the top-four seeds match up is still very much TBD, as will the format. The first and second rounds will either be best-of-5 or best-of-7 series. The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-7 series.
They also outlined the NHL Draft details, which is a bit more complicated.
There could potentially be two phases, or just one.
Phase 1 of the NHL Draft will happen on June 26, before the qualifying round of the 24-team playoff bracket. In the draw will be the 7 teams that did not qualify for the 24-team tournament, with eight place holding spots for the teams that lose the qualifying round of the tournament.
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Phase 1 will determine the top three picks, and if they’re all won by “non-resuming Clubs” than there is no need for a Phase 2.
If a place holder for teams playing in the qualifying round wins one of the first three picks, than there will be another lottery between the Qualifying Round and the First Round. The Phase 1 Draws won by a place holder will be awarded in a lottery of the eight losing teams from the qualifying round. Each team has a 1-in-8 shot at winning.
Got all that?
Bettman also noticed they could conceivably play into the fall which could impact the 20-21 season, though the league hopes to avoid it.
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