The NHL and NHL Players' Association took a significant step forward on Monday, announcing that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on the Return to Play plan and Collective Bargaining Agreement extension that also includes transition rules. It's not official until the owners and players ratify the entire package, but there's little reason to believe it won't get approved.
If all goes as planned, the qualifying round will begin on Aug. 1 in the two hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. Each conference will stay in their respective regions, which means the Blackhawks will be anchored down in Edmonton.
The NHL was originally planning to send the Western Conference teams to the Eastern Conference hub and the Eastern Conference teams to the Western Conference hub to avoid giving a Return to Play club any sort of competitive advantage, but the league and players decided against that due to the geographical complications.
So will the Blackhawks be at a disadvantage in their five-game play-in series against the Oilers on the Oilers' home surface? The simple answer is, no.
For one, there will be no fans in attendance and that's half the battle in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks may be considered the road team as the No. 12 seed taking on the No. 5 seed, but the only thing that's going to be different throughout the series is their jersey color.
Where the home-ice advantage would really come into play is off the ice, but the Oilers won't exactly be in the comfort of their own environment.
All 12 teams are required to stay inside the bubble — which the NHL is calling its "Phase 4 Secure Zone" — and any individual that leaves without permission may be subject to consequences up to and including removal. The team could also be punished in the form of hefty fines and/or loss of draft picks. That should be enough for players to take things seriously, in case there's any temptation.
But the overall point is, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and the rest of the Oilers won't have the luxury of sleeping in their own bed or being in the comfort of their own home during off-days. They have to pack multiple suitcases and stay inside the designated boundaries that includes hotels, dining destinations, the arena, practice facilities and demarcated areas (indoor and outdoor), just like everyone else. That's how life would have been for the Blackhawks had Chicago been chosen as a hub city.
In some ways, this could actually play in the Blackhawks' favor. There aren't any expectations when you're the road team going into a game, let alone a series in this unique situation. The Blackhawks had nothing to lose to begin with, considering their playoff chances were all but over prior to the NHL suspending its season on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though they had a better win percentage at home, the Blackhawks played some of their best hockey this season when they were on the road, so it wouldn't be surprising if they upset the Oilers by sticking to their road mentality.
“On the road, you’re kind of naturally an underdog," Connor Murphy said in February. "Going into those games, you just seem to rally with each other even more and have some more of that desperation, knowing they could gain momentum with a goal and or a big chance. When you have a little bit of that underdog mentality, I think that can be good, and it gives a little more fight and bite in your game.”