10 things we learned about the NHL’s return to play plan

The Stanley Cup. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The Stanley Cup. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke at large about the NHL’s return to play. Here’s what we learned.

Hockey is still a long ways off from being played in any capacity this year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. On Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman outlined the first major movements around the league’s return to play, giving fans hope for the sport’s eventual resumption.

A lot of information was thrown around fast in Bettman’s press conference and the media availability that followed. From the NHL’s playoff format to the league’s draft lottery and where games will be played, there was a lot to take in from the information dump we were presented with on Tuesday.

With that being said, here are the top 10 things we learned from Bettman’s press conference about the NHL’s return to play plan.

NHL: 10 takeaways we learned about hockey’s return

24-team playoff will be used

This is the big one. On Friday, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to return to play with a 24-team playoff format, up from the league’s usual 16 teams. Bettman gave more context to the NHL’s playoff format on Tuesday, which sees the top four teams in each conference earn a bye while the remaining eight teams play in a qualifying best-of-five round.

If that sounds a bit confusing, we’ve got you covered as to the minor details, but here’s what the NHL will look like upon the league’s hopeful return sometime this year.

2020 NHL 24-team playoff bracket
2020 NHL 24-team playoff bracket /

Hub cities are still being narrowed down

The NHL plans to play this postseason format in two hub cities, one for each conference. As of Tuesday’s press conference, 10 cities were still in the running to host the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the league hoping to narrow it down to two within three to four weeks. Here are the 10 cities in the running to be hub cities for the NHL:

  • Chicago
  • Las Vegas
  • Toronto
  • Dallas
  • St. Paul/Minneapolis
  • Edmonton
  • Pittsburgh
  • Los Angeles
  • Vancouver
  • Columbus

While there is an imbalance in terms of how many cities there are per conference (seven Western Conference cities versus three Eastern Conference cities), it does not matter which ones the NHL chooses since fans will not be in attendance for the postseason. Teams will also be limited to 50 personnel per hub city.

More. Chicago, Las Vegas among 10 hub cities being considered by NHL. light

Canadian hub cities are unlikely at this time

Canada feels like a prime place to host one of the conference’s playoff games, but the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine upon entering has thrown a wrench in the NHL’s plans. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke on the matter on Tuesday.

“If we’re not able to really get an interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room… we won’t be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub,” Daly said. “So we’re faced with having to find a solution to that. And hopefully we can.”

2019-20 regular season is over

For all intents and purposes, the 2019-20 NHL regular season has been completed by the league’s standards. The NHL had 189 games originally scheduled from March 12 to April 4, but those will not be played and standings will stay as they were when the league went on pause.

Awards will be determined at a later date

While the 2019-20 NHL regular season is over, the league has yet to figure out if the statistics for the play-in rounds will count toward’s a players totals. As it stands, Leon Draisaitl has won the Art Ross with 110 points and Alex Ovechkin sits two goals shy of 50, but it’s unclear if the league plans to add onto those statistics yet.

NHL won’t give a firm timeline to return to play yet

Bettman and the NHL declined to give firm dates for the league’s return to play, and for good reason.

“We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know it is appropriate and prudent and are approved to do so,” Bettman said in his press conference.

Via the NHL, here’s how the league views their best case scenario timeline:

  • Phase 1: Since the league went on pause on March 12, the NHL has been in the first phase of self-isolation.
  • Phase 2 (early June): Allowing teams to return to home facilities for voluntary small group on and off ice training.
  • Phase 3 (not earlier than the first half of July): Formal training camps to begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities.
  • Phase 4 (TBD): Qualifying rounds for the playoffs begin.

Given this tentative timeline, the earliest the playoffs would begin would be late July after a two-to-three week training camp.

Draft lottery will be modified

The draft lottery for 2020 will also take on a new look thanks to the shifted playoff format. While the odds will be the same as in previous years, the lottery will encompass the seven teams that missed out on the 24-team playoff format and the eight teams that will be eliminated from the qualifying round.

The draft lottery will take place on June 26 and feature three separate draws for the top three picks, but if one of the mystery teams pulls into one of those spots, there will be a second drawing after the qualifying rounds are over to determine the draft order.

It’s a complicated system, but the odds themselves will function like they did in seasons past, with the only caveat being if a mystery team jumps into the top three, the lottery will be held at a later date to determine which team wins that spot.

2020-21 season in flux

With the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs likely encroaching into the fall, it’s possible that the 2020-21 season isn’t played until January at the latest. The NHL wants to fit an entire 82-game season next year, with fans, so pushing the start date until that can be a reality seems to be the most likely scenario for hockey’s future.

COVID-19 testing

In order to make this plan work, the NHL will have to test its players regularly to keep the league and staff safe. As of now, the NHL’s hope is to have players tested every day, which would likely require anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 tests total.

As for if a player does test positive, deputy commissioner Daly has stated that it does not necessarially mean the end of the NHL’s postseason plans.

“Our medical advisors [believe] that a single positive test, depending on the circumstance, should not necessarily shut the whole operation down. Obviously we can’t be in a situation where we have an outbreak that will affect our ability to play. But a single positive test, throughout a two-month tournament, should not necessarily mean an end for the tournament.”

24-team playoff will feature expanded rosters

When the NHL does return, it will also feature expanded rosters for each of the teams, which includes 28 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders.

Next. Here is the NHL's 24-team playoff bracket. dark

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