NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (The Canadian Press)

Vancouver among cities shortlisted for NHL hub as league announces playoff plans

NHL will start the playoffs with 24 teams

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league and the NHL Players’ Association have agreed on a return-to-play format in the event the 2019-20 season can resume.

The 24-team plan would see the top-4 clubs the Eastern and Western Conference play two mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs.

The other eight teams in each conference would play best-of-five “play-in” series — No. 5 versus No. 12, No. 6 versus No. 11, No. 7 versus No. 10, and No. 8 versus No. 9 — to determine the 16 clubs left standing in the playoffs.

Bettman says the first- and second-round playoff matchups could be either best-of-five or best-of-seven series, but the conference finals and Stanley Cup final will be best-of-seven.

READ MORE: Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

“Obviously these are extraordinary and unprecedented times,” Bettman said. “Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect. I am certain that depending on which team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently. But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that as a practical matter, might have had a chance (at) qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused.

“This plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the post-season gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”

Bettman added the 2019-20 regular-season is “deemed to be completed,” meaning that the mini tournaments and qualifying round won’t count towards end-of-year statistics.

Tuesday’s announcement is an important step in the league’s bid to restart the season, which was suspended March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but does not guarantee a return to action.

The NHL and its players still have plenty of work to do, including receiving the go-ahead from government and health officials, timing, the location of hub cities, testing procedures and ensuring the safety of everyone involved.

Bettman said the league wants two cities to serve as hubs for each conference — without fans in attendance — adding that 10 remain on the short list, including Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.

The union’s executive board — made up of a player representative from each team — approved the 24-club format mapped out by the NHL/NHLPA’s Return To Play Committee in a vote Friday. Bettman says the NHL’s board of governors also gave the thumbs up to the format this week.

“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel,” Bettman said. “We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know what’s appropriate and prudent, and are approved to do so.”

Under the 24-team plan, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia would compete for the No. 1 slot in the East, while defending Cup champions St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas would do the same out West.

The East’s best-of-five “play-in” series would see No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Montreal, No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida and No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus.

Montreal, the 12th seed, sat with a paltry 71 points from 71 games — including just 19 regulation wins — when the season was paused amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In the West, the best-of-five matchups would include No. 5 Edmonton vs. No. 12 Chicago, No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona, No. 7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota and No. 8 Calgary vs. No. 9 Winnipeg.

The four winners of the best-of-five matchups in each conference would then be pitted against the top-4 seeds.

The seven teams on the outside looking in — Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit — now all face an off-season that could stretch into next winter.

The NHL also announced the format for its draft lottery, which will be held June 26 on what would have been the night of the first round of the 2020 NHL draft, for the seven teams outside the top-24. The eight teams eliminated in the qualifying round will also be eligible, but the order of the top three picks may not end up being decided until after the “play-in” is completed.

The league announced earlier this week it hopes to move to Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol, including the opening of team facilities and allowing groups of up to six players on the ice at one time under strict guidelines, early next month. Phase 3 would be training camps, while Phase 4 would be the resumption of play.

Bettman said training camps won’t start before July 1.

The NHL playoffs traditionally involve eight teams from each conference, with the winner having to navigate four best-of-seven series following a full schedule. The 2019-20 campaign was halted in March with 189 games remaining, and teams having played an uneven number of contests. The league has said it wants to ensure a full 82-game schedule in 2020-21.

The Cup has been awarded every year since 1893, save for 1919 because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005 when a lockout led to the cancellation of the entire campaign.

According to the website sportsclubstats.com, Montreal, which sat 10 points back of the East’s second wild-card spot on March 12, had a zero per cent chance of making the usual 16-team playoff field at the time of the pause. In the West, Chicago’s chances sat at 2.6 per cent, while Arizona was at 16.6 per cent.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

VIA Rail lays off 1,000 unionized workers across the country

Northern B.C. route Jasper to Prince George to Prince Rupert is not affected by VIA Rail layoffs

Sunflower Highway, art initiative to connect Fraser Valley, Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan

Sunflowers made out of reclaimed materials will be installed on public art trails

Residents warned to stay away from flooded Cache Creek park

Water might look shallow, but is several feet deep in places

Ashcroft receives grants to get new hot tub and lift station

‘The hot tub is a major benefit for many residents’

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

Northern B.C. First Nations call for reversal of grizzly bear hunting ban

Growing grizzly populations have led to fewer ungulates and increased fear of attacks says Chad Day

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

NHL’s Canadian hubs offer little economic benefit, but morale boost is valuable: experts

Games are slated to start Aug. 1 with six Canadian teams qualifying for the 24-team resumption of play

‘Made in the Cowichan Valley’ coming to a wine bottle near you

Cowichan Valley has the honour of being the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan

Most Read