Exactly when it will happen remains up in the air, but the Winnipeg Jets will face the Calgary Flames once NHL hockey eventually returns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled the NHL’s playoff format Tuesday and the league’s return to play protocol will include 24 teams.
“Obviously these are extraordinary and unprecedented times,” Bettman said.
“Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect. I am certain that depending on which team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently. But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that as a practical matter, might have had a chance (at) qualifying for the playoffs when the season was pause.
“This plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the post-season gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”
Under the plan the top four teams in each conference will meet in a round robin to determine the seedings for the first round of the playoffs.
The rest of the top 12 teams from each conference will play a best-of-five qualifying series. The Jets will face the Flames in the qualifying round, with the winner to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs, which will include 16 teams.
Winnipeg not a ‘hub city’
The playoffs will be contested in two hub cities. The City of Winnipeg did not make the short list, but Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver are all still in the running.
Each team will be limited to a total of 50 personnel and the league will have comprehensive testing for COVID-19, the NHL said Tuesday.
The best-of-five qualifying round will be played under playoff rules for overtime, while the seeding games will be contested under regular season rules. The first and second rounds of the playoffs will be either a best-of-seven or best-of-five series, but that still hasn’t been officially determined.
The eight teams who are eliminated in the qualifying round will be eligible for the NHL’s Draft Lottery.
The NHL has no fixed dates for their return to play plan but training camps won’t begin before July 1. Bettman also indicated they plan to play a full schedule for the 2020-2021 season.
‘We remain focused on the safety of our players’
Tuesday’s announcement is an important step in the league’s bid to restart the season, which was suspended March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but does not guarantee a return to action.
The NHL and its players still have plenty of work to do, including receiving the go-ahead from government and health officials, timing, the location of hub cities, testing procedures and ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
The union’s executive board — made up of a player representative from each team — approved the 24-club format mapped out by the NHL/NHLPA’s Return To Play Committee in a vote Friday.
Bettman says the NHL’s board of governors also gave the thumbs up to the format this week.
“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel,” Bettman said.
“We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know what’s appropriate and prudent, and are approved to do so.”
Western Conference Seeding Round Robin
- St. Louis
Western Conference Qualifying Round
Edmonton vs Chicago
Nashville vs Arizona
Vancouver vs Minnesota
Calgary vs Winnipeg
Eastern Conference Seeding Round Robin
- Tampa Bay
Eastern Conference Qualifying Round
Pittsburgh vs Montreal
Carolina vs New York Rangers
New York Islanders vs Florida
Toronto vs Columbus
–With files from the Canadian Press