On May 26 the NHL announced a framework for returning to play; including calling an end to the regular season and implementing a unique playoff format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while it is encouraging to hear concrete plans for moving forward; the NHL Players’ Association isn’t totally satisfied with all of the league’s plans.
The main gripe for players is the NHL’s choice to not allow players that sign free agent deals late in the season to play. Due to the Coronavirus; the league decided to push contracts signed late in the season to actually start at the beginning of next season.
For the teams like the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders the ruling is directly harmful. It means the young talents like Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin and Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov can’t join their squads for a playoff run.
“There’s really no difference between a Nick Robertson with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a Kirill Kaprizov, and an [Canadien’s Alexander] Romanov and [Ilya] Sorokin and all these guys. They’re all reserve list players but suddenly, Robertson’s allowed to be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.”
The NHL has little history of going back on decisions once made, but the current climate seems to have made them more flexible; as they reversed they reversed a ensure the draft happened before the playoffs.
New Postseason Format
So what are the NHL’s actual plans for a 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs? There still isn’t a date set for competition to return; but the league has figured out how things will look when they do.
This year an expanded field of 24 total teams are expected to participate in the tournament. The clubs will be split by conference as usual; with the top four teams in each conference getting byes from the qualifying round.
The top teams in the East and West will play round robin tournaments amongst each other to determine their respective seeds. In the mean time seeds 5-12 will play best-of-five series’ to whittle the field down to the traditional eight teams per conference.
(1) Boston Bruins
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning
(3) Washington Capitals
(4) Philadelphia Flyers
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
(1) St. Louis Blues
(2) Colorado Avalanche
(3) Las Vegas Golden Knights
(4) Dallas Stars
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
NHL commission Gary Bettman said a decision hasn’t been made about how exactly to proceed after the first round; but the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals will both be best-of-seven format.
Where will games be played?
Rather than having teams travel to and from home towns; the NHL decided to designate one eastern city and one western as the “hubs” for each conference. While it could become logistically inconvenient to schedule the necessary amount of games in just two places; the move drastically limits the amount of travel required to conduct the playoffs.
The league has yet to decide which cities to use, and will reportedly consider “COVID-19 conditions, testing availability, and government regulations” according to Bettman.
Below is the list of Cities the NHL is considering:
- Chicago, IL
- Columbus, OH
- Dallas, TX
- Edmonton, AB
- Las Vegas, NV
- Los Angeles, CA
- Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Toronto, ON
- Vancouver, BC