NHL: Plan to Return After Coronavirus

As states begin to reopen and allow more things to resume after being put on hold, the world of sports is also beginning to plan their potential return. The NHL has been busy in recent weeks after a string of rumors began coming out. On Tuesday, commissioner Gary Bettman released the official plan for the NHL.

He announced the steps the league would take, following health official guidelines with the goal of finding the safest way for play without putting players and staff in danger. But there is still more to look at rather than a potential return in the next couple of months. There are a lot of what if’s right now, so let’s take a look at the plan and see exactly what is going to happen in the upcoming months. 

What does the Return to Play Plan Consist of? 

Last week, the NHLPA voted on whether or not the league should resume play. It was almost a unanimous decision to return and end the season with a Stanley Cup winner. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league will scrap the remaining parts of the regular season and that play would resume with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That being said, the regular season is now complete. 

What’s different about the bracket is that now it will consist of 24 teams, rather than the original 16. This is the first time the playoff format has been changed since the 2012-2013 season. Here is how the playoffs will look:
-Each conference will now have 12 teams in the playoffs 

-The top 4 seeds in each conference will play round-robin style to determine first-round seeding

-The other 16 teams will play in the “Qualifying Round”. This round will be based on a best-of-five series. The matchups are determined by the current standings. 

-After the qualifying round and round-robin, the first and second rounds will then be played. The length of the series is yet to be determined. 

-The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a best-of-seven series

The playoffs will be held in 2 cities. These will be called the 2 “hub cities”. Commissioner Bettman described this as being the safest alternative. This means that teams will have to do little to no traveling, which lowers the risk of putting their health in danger. These hub cities are still to be determined by the league.

So What Does the Bracket Look Like? 

New York Rangers complete mind-blowing comeback vs Montreal Canadiens
Teams like the New York Rangers will have the opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup, despite being eliminated from playoff contention.

The decision to make the bracket filled with 24 teams rather than the 16 had some controversy about it, but it was the right decision. The playoff race was heating up right before the NHL paused its season, so giving those teams a chance to clinch was fair. The 5-12 seeds are set in place because they are based on the standings.

On the other hand, the 1-4 seeds will be confirmed while the qualifying round is going on. Like I mentioned before, these four teams will play a round-robin style to determine the official order. This also gives these teams an opportunity to skate, rather than taking a bye and going into the first round with no playing time. 

The bracket is also set up like a normal bracket is. It is not like the NFL playoffs, where the lowest remaining seed plays the top seed in the divisional round. This is important because the bracket is the same as the original. The only difference is the 24 teams rather than the 16. 

Here is how the bracket looks: 

Eastern Conference

Top 4 Seeds: Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers 

Qualifying Round : 

#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs #9 Columbus Blue Jackets 

#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #12 Montreal Canadiens 

#7 New York Islanders vs #10 Florida Panthers 

#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs #11 New York Rangers 

Western Conference

Top 4 Seeds: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars 

Qualifying Round : 

#8 Calgary Flames vs #9 Winnipeg Jets 

#5 Edmonton Oilers vs #12 Chicago Blackhawks

#7 Vancouver Canucks vs #10 Minnesota Wild 

#6 Nashville Predators vs #11 Arizona Coyotes 

How is the Draft Going to Work? 

There will be two phases of the NHL draft this year. The seven teams that didn’t make the playoffs (Anaheim, Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, Ottawa, New Jersey, and San Jose) are an automatic bid in the lottery draft. Phase 1 is set to be completed on June 26th. However, it is going to be done with “filler teams”. 

Because the qualifying round will still be going on, the eight teams eliminated will not be known. The league has filled in eight temporary placeholders to simulate the eight teams. Each of them will enter with a 3% chance to receive a top-3 pick. What makes this more complicated is if one of the temporary teams receives a top-3 pick, then there will be a phase 2. 

Phase 2 (if necessary) will be held after the eight teams are eliminated from the qualifying round. It will only consist of the eight eliminated. Each will have a fair chance of getting into the top 3 (12.5%), to determine who the mystery team is. 

Safety Protocols? 

NHL formally adopts 24-team playoff format, announces altered ...
Phase Two is a total of 29 pages. Each team is responsible for their players and will have to follow guidelines provided by health officials.

Of course, this plan will only take place if health officials and the government give the green light to resume professional sports. Currently, the NHL is ready to move to Phase 2. Phase 1 was self-isolation. Phase 2 allows small groups to train at the team’s practice facility. A maximum of 6 players will be allowed in the building at all times, where they will be required to wear face coverings.

Face coverings are allowed to be removed when players are on the ice or exercising. Phase 2 also allows no contact skating, rehab for players with injuries, cardio training, and weight training without a spotter. The media, agents, and other player personnel are not allowed in the building.

Participation in Phase 2 is what the NHL calls “voluntary”. Players are not required to participate and teams will not require players to return to the team’s city. As a result, teams will have the opportunity to organize to help players in any way possible as long as they follow medical guidelines.

A player is also allowed to use the facilities of other teams. If a player is in a different state to self-isolate, they are allowed to use the nearest practice facility of the closest professional team. However, players are not allowed to hold private skating sessions outside of team facilities and cannot work out at any public facility. 

For testing purposes for the Coronavirus, a player who wishes to use the team’s practice building must take a test (an RT-PCR test) 48 hours beforehand. Depending on the availability of tests, each player will have to take at least two tests a week. Players are also going to be instructed on taking daily temperatures and logging any symptoms. These will be logged upon entering the building and will be checked frequently for any symptoms. The league is also going to provide informational sessions to help players learn more about the virus and its risks, as well as safety protocols.

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