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24-team return to play plan approved, announced

The NHL has announced its return to play plan, involving a best-of-five qualifying round prior to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in two hub cities. The Canes will face the New York Rangers.

Jamie Kellner

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a televised announcement Tuesday about the league’s return to play plan.

Bettman announced that the 2019-20 regular season was considered over and that everything in regards to stats and awards would be determined based upon the league’s pause on March 12.

Moving forward, Bettman confirmed that 24 teams will eventually be resuming play, the top 12 from each conference determined by points percentage as of March 12.

The league plans to resume play in two “hub” cities that have not yet been determined, but that have been narrowed down to 10 options. Those include:

Chicago, IL

Columbus, OH

Dallas, TX

Edmonton, AB

Las Vegas, NV

Los Angeles, CA

Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Pittsburgh, PA

Vancouver, BC

Raleigh was originally considered to be a candidate as a hub city, but Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon told Joe Giglio and Joe Ovies on 99.9 the fan Tuesday evening that PNC Arena’s low number of dressing rooms and a lack of available practice ice in the city made it a long shot.

Elliott Friedman reported that each team will get two exhibition games, 28 skaters and as many goalies as they wish to carry (sorry, Mr. Ayres).

Bettman stated that each conference will be assigned to a hub city and each location will have access to secure arenas, hotels, practice facilities and transportation.

The top four teams in each conference (Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers for the East and St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars for the West) will automatically qualify for the first round of the playoffs.

However, their seeding will be determined based off an inter-conference round robin series where each team will play each other once. The round-robin games will use regular season overtime rules.

Bettman also expanded that in the case of a final points tie from the round-robin series, the tiebreaker will be based on the team with the higher point percentage at the time of the league’s pause.

The remaining 16 teams, 5-12 in each conference, will face off against each other in a best-of-five qualifying series. The series will be the following based off of point percentage based on the league’s pause, with the Canes, as rumored, facing the New York Rangers:


5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 12) Montreal Canadiens

6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. 11) New York Rangers

7) New York Islanders vs. 10) Florida Panthers

8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 9) Columbus Blue Jackets


5) Edmonton Oilers vs. 12) Chicago Blackhawks

6) Nashville Predators vs. 11) Arizona Coyotes

7) Vancouver Canucks vs. 10) Minnesota Wild

8) Calgary Flames vs. 9) Winnipeg Jets

After those best-of-five qualifying series are complete, the winning teams will be paired off against the top-four teams from each conference.

At this time, the league has not decided whether or not to bracket or re-seed the first round of playoffs nor have they decided whether to play best-of-five or best-of-seven series for the first and second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. However, Bettman said that the Conference and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven series.

For now, the league is gearing up to begin Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play plan which involves voluntary, small group on and off-ice training. Bettman says he expects this to begin in early June and that comprehensive testing will take place before players return.

Following that, the league will move to Phase 3 which involves the opening of formal training camp. Bettman stated that neither the beginning of this phase nor the length of training camp has been decided yet, but he doesn’t expect it to start before the first half of July.

Dundon also said during his interview with Ovies and Giglio that the Hurricanes’ practice facility in Morrisville is on track to be finished in time for an early July training camp.

The commissioner also talked about how the draft lottery will work. There will be potentially two phases to the draft lottery to determine picks, one, two and three. The seven teams that are not returning to play will all be entered into the draft lottery in inverse order of points percentage and the eight losers from the qualifying rounds will also be entered into the draft.

Since the first phase of the draft lottery will be held prior to the qualifying round on Friday, June 26, the other eight teams will not be known. As such, eight placeholders will be slotted into the lottery to maintain the same odds.

In phase one of the draft lottery, if picks 1-3 are awarded to the seven teams not returning to play, phase two will not be necessary. However, if any of the three picks are awarded to the placeholder teams in 8-15, the owner of those picks will be determined in phase two which will be held before the first round of playoffs.

Phase two will involve all of the teams not participating in the first round of the playoffs and will not require placeholders. All teams in phase 2 of the draft lottery will have the same odds for winning the pick in question.

For example:

If in phase one, the Detroit Red Wings win the first overall pick, that selection is awarded to them. But if the second overall pick is awarded to one of the placeholders, 8-15, that pick is pushed off to be determined in phase two.

Now in phase two, every team that was eliminated from the qualifying round and the seven that did not resume play and that did not win a pick will all have the same odds of winning the pick.

For the example, Detroit still has the first overall pick, but are out of contention for the second and third. But now say the Ottawa Senators didn’t win a pick in phase one and the New York Rangers were eliminated from the qualifying round, both of them have the same exact odds for being awarded that second overall pick if it goes to phase two.

Boiled down, that means that the seven teams not returning to play have technically at least two chances to win a pick from the draft lottery and teams who played in the qualifying round and lost, have to hope that at least one of the picks is awarded to one of the placeholder teams 8-15 and then have to hope that they themselves are selected in the phase two drawing.

The announcement lays out a long and thought-out plan that Bettman said was reached after much deliberation between owners, players and league officials. While nothing in regards to location and time is set in stone, Bettman said that health and safety are paramount and that civil and medical authorities have been and will be consulted at every step of the way as the league inches closer and closer to being able to put a product back onto the ice and award the 2019-20 Stanley Cup.

Bettman also stated that the intent right now is to play out the 2020-21 season in full, and again that time will tell if that will happen, but regardless, that is the current goal they are working with in mind.