The National Hockey League has officially unveiled its return to play plans for the 2020 playoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During an announcement on Tuesday from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, he confirmed the league’s plans to return with a 24-team playoff format.
“When the go-ahead from medical experts and the relevant government authorities is given, 24 of our 31 teams will resume play,” said Bettman.
This equates to the top 12 from each conference as they currently sit in the league standings – which haven’t changed since season play halted on March 12.
The commissioner said that games will be played in two hub cities, which will be determined at a later date. The NHL plan outlined that each conference will have a dedicated city with secure hotels, arenas, practice facilities and in-market transportation.
Vancouver has been placed on a shortlist by the league as one of ten possible hub locations. If Vancouver were to be selected, it doesn’t appear to be a problem with local government as, over the past few weeks, BC Premier John Horgan has expressed a public willingness to bring the NHL to rinks in British Columbia.
Other Canadian cities on the shortlist of hub cities include Toronto and Edmonton.
Commissioner Gary Bettman shares details on the NHL’s Return to Play Plan. https://t.co/ZH7153tpZ0
— NHL (@NHL) May 26, 2020
In regards to safety, Bettman suggests that a comprehensive testing strategy will be deployed in each hub city and teams will be limited to travelling with only 50 personnel, including players, coaches, and support staff.
As part of his announcement, Bettman confirmed that the 2019-20 NHL regular season is officially over, meaning the bottom seven teams will no longer have a shot at the Stanley Cup and move into the draft lottery.
On the flip side of the coin, this means the Vancouver Canucks will officially get their chance to play in the postseason – marking the first time the club has a chance at the Stanley Cup since 2016.
The Vancouver Canucks are slated to play the Minnesota Wild as part of a first-round, best-of-five qualifying series.
— Graham Cox (@vanislandgee) May 26, 2020
This qualifying round will include the bottom eight teams in each conference, with the winners advancing on to the round of 16. The top four teams in each conference will get a qualifying round bye.
Bettman expects the league can facilitate the full qualifying round of the playoffs in the timespan of “a little over a month.”
Currently, clubs are being asked to self-isolate as much as possible, but the league is aiming at allowing teams to return to practice facilities in early June for voluntary small group training.
Bettman points to July as being the earliest teams can enter ‘training camp,’ with the playoffs being scheduled at a later date under the guidance of health authorities. The expectation of the league is that the 2020 playoffs will run into September.
“At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances and the needs of our players,” said Bettman.
With Tuesday’s announcement, it also means that Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes finishes the year leading all rookies in scoring.
Gary Bettman: "NHL regular season has concluded."
Rookie Scoring champ: Quinn Hughes! ?? pic.twitter.com/lY6gmvphy6
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) May 26, 2020