NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday the league is planning a 24-team Return to Play format but could not give specific dates on when games might start.
Bettman added that he does not believe training camps will open before the first half of July, meaning that if it lasts three weeks the season would likely not resume until August should it be deemed safe to play. Bettman said the Return to Play Committee is still debating whether the format/playoffs will use re-seeding or bracketing.
Bettman says he does not anticipate training camps opening "before the first half of July." If training camp is three weeks long, then 2019-20 season will not be resuming before August.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) May 26, 2020
As part of Tuesday's announcement, Bettman said the 2019-20 regular season is considered complete.
The 24-team plan will use an order of finish determined by each team’s points percentage as of the league pause on March 12. The top four clubs in the Eastern and Western Conference will play separate mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs. The other eight teams in each conference would play best-of-five "play-in" qualifying series to determine the 16 clubs left standing.
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.
Bettman also said the league is planning on returning to play in two hub cities. The list of possibilities include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
Don't believe decision coming today on hub cities. But hearing 10 teams still in running to be a hub. List includes: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) May 26, 2020
While many believe Vegas is a near lock to be one of #NHL's hub cities, it is possible that the city hosting the Eastern Conference clubs may be geographically located in the West.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) May 26, 2020
Only 3 of the possible 10 hub cities are in the East (Columbus, Pittsburgh, Toronto).
“At the pause, we committed to resuming play only when appropriate and prudent,” Bettman said in a release. “We are hopeful the Return To Play plan will allow us to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup in a manner in which the health and safety of our players, on-ice officials, team staff and associated individuals involved are paramount. Accordingly, an essential component of the plan is a rigorous, regular schedule of testing.
“On the hockey side, the return-to-play format reflects the league’s extraordinary competitive balance while honoring the tradition and integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“The Return To Play plan is the result of weeks of constructive dialogue with the National Hockey League Players’ Association and we are grateful for their cooperation. We also thank our consulting health experts and the local, regional and national authorities who are helping steer us through a complex set of issues.”
TSN Senior Hockey Reporter Frank Seravalli tweets that "many believe Vegas is a near lock to be one of the NHL's hub cities, it is possible that the city hosting the Eastern Conference clubs may be geographically located in the west" since only three of the possible 10 cities (Columbus, Pittsburgh and Toronto) are in the east.
Meanwhile, deputy commissioner Bill Daly had this to say when asked by TSN's Ryan Rishaug whether host teams can play in their own market.
"We certainly see some merit to moving the club to a different market so that any perceived advantages associated with being in a home market are eliminated," he said.
Daly on whether host teams can play in their own market— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) May 26, 2020
"We certainly see some merit to moving the club to a different market so that any perceived advantages associated with being in a home market are eliminated"
Adds that it's not yet decided on.
With regards to the draft, Bettman said it will take place after the season and include a unique lottery format that could potentially happen in two phases and work as follows:
The lottery will be on Friday, June 26 and the top three picks will be up for grabs. Fifteen teams – the seven who are no longer playing plus eight “place-holders” representing the teams that lose in the play-in round – will be eligible to win the No. 1 overall pick.
If the winning team of the First Draw is from the No.1-7 group, that team wins the right to the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. If the winning team of the First Draw is from the No. 8-15 group, the right to the first-overall pick will be determined in Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery.
NHL Draft Lottery will be on Friday June 26. The Nos. 1, 2 and 3 picks will be up for grabs. Fifteen teams — the seven who are no longer playing plus 8 more currently identified as Teams A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H — will be in the lottery. Same lottery odds as prior years.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 26, 2020
For a more detailed explanation of the NHL's draft lottery from TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, click here.
TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun tweets that a Return to Play announcement is only the first step in a series of things that need to go right for the NHL to resume its 2019-20 season.
"So many hurdles to overcome, more negotiations needed between NHL/NHLPA over hub cities, testing, protocols... the format is just step one," he tweeted prior to Bettman's announcement.
Again, let me repeat myself, the format is just the first step. So many more hurdles to overcome, more negotiations needed between NHL/NHLPA over hub cities, testing, protocols... the format is just Step 1. No guarantee yet the 2019-20 season is completed despite best intentions— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 26, 2020
The National Hockey League Players' Association Executive Board gave the green light on a 24-team Return to Play proposal last week. An official announcement was originally expected to be made in the coming days.
The league released a memo Monday announcing it is targeting early June as the start date of Phase 2 of its Return to Play plan, including the opening of practice rinks for small, voluntary group workouts on and off the ice.
If the Phase 2 plan gets the green light, on-ice sessions will be non-contact and involve up to six players, who will be expected to maintain physical distancing at all times. Coaches will be allowed to watch but not participate in skates or workouts.
The NHL paused its regular season on March 12, one day after the NBA halted their season once Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was revealed to have tested positive for the coronavirus.