Commissioner Gary Bettman and company have geared up for summer hockey — in March Madness style (kind of).
Looking to award the Stanley Cup despite a lengthy and unprecedented stoppage, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to resume the 2019-20 campaign with a 24-team tournament.
The league was forced to suspend the season on March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak. As the hiatus prolonged, it became inevitable that the league would have to forgo the remainder of the regular season. A 24-team tournament makes the decision easier, alleviating the controversy of clubs that were on the playoff bubble with double-digit games left on their regular-season slate when the pause occurred.
Where will games be played?
The hub cities are Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton, Alberta (Western Conference). The East will play its games at Scotiabank Arena (home of the Maple Leafs) and the West at Rogers Place (home of the Oilers).
When will play resume?
Each team will play one exhibition game before the commencement of the tournament.
The qualifying round will feature best-of-five series with the rest of the playoffs held in best-of-seven series.
Below are key dates to know, while you can see the schedule for the qualifying round/round robin right here.
July 28-30 — Exhibition games
Aug. 1 — Qualifying round begins
Aug. 2 — Round robin begins
Aug. 11 — First round begins
Aug. 25 — Second round begins (tentative)
Sept. 8 – Conference Final series begin (tentative)
Sept. 22 — Stanley Cup Final begins (tentative)
Oct. 4 — Last possible day of Stanley Cup Final (tentative)
How will seeding work?
Based on points percentages, the top 12 teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences make up the 24-team field. The format awards the top four seeds in each conference a bye past the best-of-five qualifying round.
The Flyers are the East's fourth seed and will compete with the No. 1 Bruins, No. 2 Lightning and No. 3 Capitals in a round-robin tournament to determine the top four seeds in the first round. The four teams will play each other once and total points will determine seeds. If there's a tie among points in the round-robin tourney, the NHL will use regular-season points as a tiebreaker.
The playoffs will consist of reseeding after every round instead of a bracket style.
Here are the East's qualifying-round matchups:
No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets
No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers
No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers
No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens
Here are the East's seeds by regular-season points percentages entering the qualifiers:
8. Maple Leafs
9. Blue Jackets
The Flyers went 22-8-5 against the Eastern Conference playoff field during the regular season.— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) May 27, 2020
Not too shabby. pic.twitter.com/vYuoeSCldZ
The Flyers went 29-17-7 against the NHL's 24-team field during the regular season. pic.twitter.com/Njf976liJ9— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) June 10, 2020
Who will Flyers play in first round?
So the Flyers' first-round matchup is up in the air. During the round robin, though, they can climb to the East's No. 1 spot and can't slide any lower than their current No. 4 seed heading into the first round. They could see any of the eight teams playing in the qualifying round depending on how those series shake out and how the round robin unfolds.
The Flyers' impressive run prior to the suspension paid off. Before the pause, the Flyers had won nine of their last 10 games and were 19-6-1 since Jan. 8, a stretch in which they were tied with the Bruins for the NHL's most points at 39.
The Flyers since Jan. 8 prior to NHL stoppage. pic.twitter.com/icUrYeh98q— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) April 5, 2020
Because of that stretch, the Flyers will avoid the play-in round and a best-of-five situation.
Prior to the stoppage, the Flyers (41-21-7, 89 points) were a point behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals and projected to finish with 104 to 105 points, which would have been their most since 2010-11, when they had 106.
“I felt since Day 1 that one of our goals, and I mentioned this to you guys quite a few times, teams have to continue to improve during the season," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said in late April. "You have to get better. I believe that that’s what we were doing in all aspects of our game, our 5-on-5 play, our specialty teams play, our defensive play, our offensive play. We were getting better individually and we were getting better as a group.
"That enables you to get a chance to get into the playoffs and have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. That was our goal coming into the season. That goal hasn’t changed. Obviously there are different components and a different dynamic at this time. I feel real confident that once we find out if we can get back at it, I’m optimistic that we will.
"I think sports is going to be one of the venues that’s going to help people get through this. Once we get back at it, I’m very confident with the focus of our group that we’ll be at the same page as everybody else and it’s going to be our job to work hard, work smart, do the right things and get back to where we were.”
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