The 2020 NHL season was abruptly paused on March 12 in the middle of an intense playoff race. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman decided to temporarily stop play due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. In his announcement back in March, Bettman promised players and fans that the season was not lost and would be properly concluded when health officials deemed it safe for players to return to the ice. This day has finally come as Bettman has laid out a roadmap for returning to play.
The commissioner revealed a four-phase plan for returning to play. Phase 1 has already been completed. This phase was instituted the day the NHL suspended operations and had its players and staff self-isolating at their own homes. The NHL, as of June 1st, has moved into Phase 2 of the return to play plan. Phase 2 involves players being able to return to their team’s city and allows participation in small group activities. It is expected to last for just over a month and give way to Phase 3.
Phase 3, which is targeted for early July, would give teams permission to hold a mini version of training camp so players can get back into game condition. This would lead to Phase 4 of Bettman’s plan. Although there is no target date in mind yet for Phase 4, this is the phase that fans should be excited about. That is when teams will finally return to game action and begin their quest to Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Once we finally reach Phase 4, the top 24 teams from the league (12 from each conference) will battle it out for a chance at a championship. Teams will be split up by conference and placed into two host cities. These cities will provide secure hotels and meals for players and staff as well as frequent sanitation of the host arenas. Commissioner Bettman announced that he has narrowed the host cities down to two of the ten following options: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.
In this new playoff format, the top four seeds in each conference (teams in the middle of the image below) will receive byes. Each group of four will then play a Round Robin to determine the order in which they will be seeded for the first round. While the top teams battle it out for seeding, teams 5 through 12 in each conference (teams on the outside of the image below) will be playing best-of-5 series in a qualifying round to determine who moves on to the actual first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In a statement earlier this week, Bettman said that each round after the qualifying round will be the traditional best-of-7 series length. Bettman also made it clear that the playoffs will not be a bracket-style as they have been the past few seasons. The 2020 playoffs will see teams reseed after each round in a format of the highest seed remaining in each conference playing the lowest seed remaining and so on.
This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are set up to be some of the most entertaining in recent memory thanks to the extended field and new format. Hopefully games will be able to get underway sooner rather than later, but only time will tell when the puck will finally be dropped.
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