[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]
While there are still details to work out, the NHL made key return-to-play announcements on Tuesday. The highlights include: how the 24-team playoff format works, potential choices for two “hub cities,” and information on the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.
This post revolves around the 24-team playoff format and hub cities. Click here for more on the NHL’s return-to-play procedures for Phase 2.
One of the most important bits of new information is that NHL aims for formal training camps “no earlier than the first half of July.” We’ll get to that, and more, below.
NHL shares basic timeline to get through return-to-play phases; two hub cities details
Shortly after the pandemic pause, the NHL entered “Phase 1” of a return-to-play plan: players and staff practicing self-quarantining. The NHL shared the framework for the other return-to-play phases:
Phase 1: Pause and self-quarantine. Regular season considered over. The NHL instituted the pandemic pause on March 12, with the regular season marked as ending as of March 11. The top 12 teams from each conference enter the 24-team playoff format, with positioning based on points percentage.
Phase 2: Noncontact skating for players in small groups at team facilities. The hopeful starting date for Phase 2 is early June. Again, this post covers the key points; if you want to read the 22-page NHL document, have at it.
Phase 3: Formal training camps starting “no earlier than the first half of July.”
Phase 4: 24-team playoff (including seeding games, play-in rounds) must still be determined.
The NHL also shared details on the two “hub cities” setup, including potential host cities:
• Chicago, IL
• Columbus, OH
• Dallas, TX
• Edmonton, AB
• Las Vegas, NV
• Los Angeles, CA
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
• Pittsburgh, PA
• Toronto, ON
• Vancouver, BC
* Each Conference is assigned a “hub” city with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities and in-market transportation.
* Teams will be limited to 50 personnel in the “hub” city with only a small number of support staff permitted to enter the event areas.
* Timing and sites will be determined at a future date and will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations.
How the 24-team playoff format works
The NHL shared the “competitive format” for the 24-team playoff setup in its return-to-play announcement. As you can see, “the round robin” pertains to the seeding for the top four teams in each conference. The “qualifying round” has previously been referred to as a “play-in” round. City 1 represents Eastern Conference teams, while City 2 will include the West.
In each Conference, teams seeded by points percentage.
• Round Robin: The top 4 teams play for First Round seeding (regular-season overtime rules in effect)
• Qualifying Round: The remaining 8 teams play best-of-5 series to advance to the First Round (playoff overtime rules in effect)
• First Round and Second Round: Format (seeding vs. bracket) and series lengths to be determined
• Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final: Best-of-7 series
* The winners from the Qualifying Round play the top 4 seeds in the First Round. Individual First Round series matchups remain to be determined.
City 1 (Eastern Conference)
City 1 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round
- Boston Bruins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Washington Capitals
- Philadelphia Flyers
City 1 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round
#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
City 2 (Western Conference)
City 2 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round
- St. Louis Blues
- Colorado Avalanche
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Dallas Stars
City 2 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round
#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