Two-and-a-half months ago the NHL pressed pause on the season, today they pressed fast forward and gave us a look at what a resumption of play will look like. First order of business, June 26: Phase 1 of the Draft Lottery, there might be a Phase 2. The Draft will happen only after the Stanley Cup is presented, if they get to that part. Training camps open no earlier than the first half of July. The play-in and round-robin round, likely no earlier than late July. The playoffs likely won’t begin before August and still to be determined, whether Round 1 will be reseeding or bracketing and whether Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs will be best-of-five or best-of-seven.
One of the things we learned today, confirmation that Ottawa will have a 25-per-cent chance at the first overall pick and Alexis Lafreniere in that Draft Lottery, correct?
Bob McKenzie: That’s absolutely correct and I know everybody is a little complicated with this Draft Lottery explanation and all the permutations that are out there, but if you’re an Ottawa Senators fan it’s pretty basic. You’ve got the best chance at getting the No. 1 pick, a 25-per-cent chance, your odds plus the San Jose Sharks’ odds. Even if you lose the Draft Lottery outright, the lowest the Ottawa Senators can pick is number five and number six. So, Ottawa likes everything and knowing that the Draft Lottery is also going to be on Friday, June 26, they can start to get excited about where their picks are. As for the rest of it, the Draft Lottery is basically exactly the same as it has been in past years, except we don’t know which teams are going to be in the 8-15 slots. We can debate all day about the play-in round and whether Pittsburgh or Edmonton if they lose that first round, deserve a shot, but the bottom line is the mechanics of the Draft Lottery basically work the same and Ottawa is sitting pretty, as pretty as they can be with that 25-per-cent shot.
The fun part is that we get to talk about actual hockey matchups and as we speculated, here are the matchups for the play-in round. Let’s start in the West, which is tantalizing for Canada, four Canadian teams. No. 5 Edmonton will play No. 12 Chicago, No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona, No. 7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota and No. 8 Calgary against No. 9 Winnipeg. In the East, No.5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Montreal, No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 8 NY Rangers, No.7 NY Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida and No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus.
We know the play-in round will look like that, the Top-4 seeds will be playing a round robin, but there is still a lack of clarity about how the actual playoffs will work.
Pierre LeBrun: Is it a 24-team playoff? Or is it a 16-team playoff? I have to tell you, I didn’t get exactly a straight answer on that even after Gary Bettman’s address on Tuesday. I spoke to one source who said the current plan is to treat that play-in round as a special set of games, neither regular-season games, because the regular season is over, neither official playoffs, it’s a qualifying round to get into the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I spoke to another league source who said as far as he’s concerned it is now the postseason. This is going to matter, because you’ve coaches that have bonuses for making the playoffs, you have Vancouver’s first-round draft pick that automatically transfers to New Jersey if they make the playoffs. Well, are they in? Or do they have to win their play-in series? These are questions that still need answers. Maybe it’s semantics, but it has an impact, playoffs or no playoffs at the outset.
Darren Dreger: Great planning across the board in the presentation from commissioner Gary Bettman, but health concerns remain top priority for the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association. If you look for a moment at vulnerable players, a couple of examples come to mind. Max Domi or Kaapo Kakko, both players with diabetes. There are several players in the NHL with asthma and respiratory conditions. That will be dealt with, as commissioner Bettman disclosed, on a case by case, club-by-club basis in Phase 3. There is no doubt that these players will have a team of medical people in an effort to advise them when the green light is finally given for the NHL to ultimately resume, but there is no guarantee that they’re going to report. Also, the initiation of Phase 2 is bogged down because of the restriction of a 14-day quarantine, which absolutely will remain in effect, at least for the seven Canadian teams.
Also still to be determined, who exactly will be the two hub cities that will host these playoffs. Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver are still in the running.
McKenzie: Keep in mind one thing, Gary Bettman did say that the hubs don’t necessarily have to be one in the east and one in the west. Could be two western cities.