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NHL announces plan to return to play with 24-team format

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The National Hockey League and its commissioner Gary Bettman announced its plan to return to play on Tuesday afternoon. The NHL becomes one of the first professional leagues to announce a return to play plan in the US.

While it had been rumored for a few days, the NHL announced a plan on Tuesday afternoon, looking to bring back hockey amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The biggest news regarding the NHL’s announcement is that the regular season is over. Instead of returning in July with a few weeks of games left, the NHL’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, announced that 24 teams will make a modified playoff system.

The playoff format starts with a Round Robin that includes the top four teams each from the Eastern and Western Conferences. There will then be a qualifying round that consists of the eight teams from both conferences, where they will play in a best-of-5 series to determine who advances to the first round of the playoffs. The winners of the qualifying round will play the round-robin teams based on where the top four teams were seeded.

From there, the first and second rounds will take place. The series length for those two rounds has yet to be determined. The conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final will be a best-of-7 series like always.

The Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and the Philadelphia Flyers will all battle it out for seeding in the Eastern Conference, while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalance, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars will play for seeding in the Western Conference.

Rounding out the rest of the seeds for the Eastern Conference, in order, are the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and the Montreal Canadiens.

The remaining Western Conference teams are the Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes, and the Chicago Blackhawks.

The NHL stopped play on March 12th, and likely won’t play until the end of July. But I’m sure anybody is excited to hear that sports are on their way back. Bettman announced that the NHL would have a four-phase plan to bring hockey back. The NHL is technically in Phase 1 right now, as players, coaches, and team personnel self-isolate as much as they can.

Phase 2 will likely begin in early June, as the NHL will expect teams to return to their facilities, where teams can conduct “small group, voluntary, and on- and off-ice training.” Phase 3 will likely be during the latter half of July, as teams will be able to hold training camps in their home facilities to get players back into shape for the modified 2020 NHL Playoffs. The timing of Phase 4 is unknown at the moment, but that phase includes actual games, where teams will play the round robins, qualifying rounds, and so on in two separate “hub” cities.

There will be restrictions as the NHL progresses forward, which is also why the NHL is including the playing of these games in “hub cities” around the country. All ten cities included have a plethora of places that teams can practice, stay, and prepare for the playoffs. Just looking at the list and comparing them to COVID-19 numbers, it’s highly unlikely that cities like Chicago and Los Angeles will host these games.

Guidelines set in place for teams include a limit of team personnel, as well as a smaller number of support staff, is allowed to enter the events. According to the NHL’s press release, teams will only be allowed to have a total of 50 team personnel at the hub cities.

Bettman also included focused on the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery during his announcement on Tuesday. The draft lottery is somewhat tricky to understand, but the seven teams that did not make the playoffs, as well as the eight teams that lost in the qualifying rounds, will go through three draws, where they will determine the first 15 selections of the 2020 NHL Draft.

More information about the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery is provided at the bottom of the NHL’s press release on Tuesday.