The NHL took a massive step forward in its goal of resuming the 2019-20 season and awarding the Stanley Cup this fall, as league commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL’s official “Return to Play” plan on Tuesday afternoon.
Many details are what many of us already know — as the NHLPA’s Executive Board signed off on the league’s proposed 24-team tournament last week. Boston will hold court as one of the eight teams exempt from a play-in round that will see the remaining 16 clubs battle it out for a chance to hoist the greatest trophy in sports in the coming months.
Still, even if the basic outline of the NHL’s plan was mapped out previously, Bettman did unveil plenty of new developments and timelines during both his official address and subsequent media availability Tuesday evening.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the NHL’s plans of bringing hockey back in 2020:
1. 24 teams will get a shot at lifting the Stanley Cup:
Let’s go through a quick refresher of what fans should expect from the NHL’s revamped format if the 2019-20 season resumes:
In total, 24 of the NHL’s 31 teams are still in the running for the Stanley Cup — with the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and San Jose Sharks officially out of the picture and finished this season.
The group of 24 eligible teams will be composed of the top 12 teams in each conference — sorted by points percentage.
The top four teams in each conference will take part in a three-game, round-robin tournament in order to determine seeding for the official “first round” of the playoffs.
While that round-robin tournament is underway, the remaining eight teams in each conference will take part in best-of-five series in order to qualify for that “first round” of postseason hockey — which, by the time the round-robin tournament and qualifying round is over — would feature the regular playoff grouping of 16 teams.
Here are the matchups in both the Eastern and Western Conference for that qualifying round:
TOP SEEDS: Bruins (1), Lightning (2), Capitals (3), Flyers (4)
Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
Hurricanes (6) vs.Rangers (11)
Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)
TOP SEEDS: Blues (1), Avalanche (2), Golden Knights (3), Stars (4)
Oilers (5) vs. Blackhawks (12)
Predators (6) vs. Coyotes (11)
Canucks (7) vs. Wild (10)
Flames (8) vs. Jets (9)
2. The Bruins' spot atop standings could help during round-robin tournament:
While the Bruins will be able to avoid the dangers of potentially getting upset in that best-of-five qualifying round, the current system of the round-robin format could prove costly for Bruce Cassidy's club — given that the tournament will be used to determine seeding once the regular 16-team playoff format gets underway in the following round.
As we noted before, even though the Bruins were the most consistent team in the East and held eight, 10 and 11-point leads over Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the standings at the time of the pause — a sluggish start to this tournament could suddenly have the Bruins opening the next round as the No. 4 seed.
Not ideal, to say the least, but no team is going to be particularly thrilled with every facet of this new format.
Of course, the Bruins could just win the tournament outright and avoid worrying about a drop in seeding. But even if all four teams in the East are evenly matched, record-wise, by the end of the tournament, Bettman did note that ties in the standings would be broken by regular-season points percentage. As such, the Bruins would have the edge over the rest of the field if its tied at the top.
One thing to keep tabs on, however — these round-robin games will be played with regular-season overtime rules. So that means, yes, the shootout is very much in play. Not what the Bruins want to hear.
3. The 2019-20 regular season is over:
With seven teams officially shut down for the rest of this year, Bettman noted the obvious — the 2019-20 season is officially in the books.
Such news shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given the extended ramp-up schedule needed to accommodate extra training camps and a revamped playoff format. Still, it's a shame that the Bruins won't be able to fully see through a regular season that saw them become the first club to break triple digits, points wise, in the standings and featured a number of individual milestones.
With the regular season now in the rearview, the Bruins are technically the Presidents' Trophy winners off of their 100 points and 44-14-12 record. With 48 goals apiece, David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin will share the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, handed out annually to the player(s) with the most tallies at the end of the regular season.
Tuukka Rask should also be a lock as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy — as he finished off the regular-season campaign first among all goalies in GAA (2.12), second in save percentage (.929) and second in shutouts (5). Both Rask and Jaroslav Halak will also take home the William M. Jennings Trophy — handed out each year to the goaltender(s) "having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it" during the regular season.
4. The NHL will travel to hub cities — at least at the start:
Under this new format, each conference will be assigned a "hub city" in which they will carry out their games during the postseason.
Along with the actual venue for these playoff games, these hub cities will also provide the 12 teams in each conference with secure hotels, practice facilities and in-market transportation. Each NHL club will be limited to 50 personnel when the time comes to move to these hub cities.
While no final decisions on venues have been announced just yet, Bettman did note that the two winners will be chosen out of a shortlist of 10 candidates:
Las Vegas, NV
Los Angeles, CA
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Bettman added that there could be a chance that the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final could be played in the home city of the teams involved, if such an environment was deemed safe. But the first step will be to identify these two cities for each conference, with Bettman adding that a decision on the two hub cities will likely need to be made within three or four weeks.
5. Late July is a target for games, but not established timeline has been set: