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Commissioner Gary Bettman Announces NHL Return With a 24-Team Playoff

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Commissioner Gary Bettman Announces NHL Return With a 24-Team Playoff
Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition. (Photo by BRUCE BENNETT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a return to play plan with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last Friday, the league came to an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association to resume the season.

Bettman made a statement on Tuesday afternoon, revealing that the 2019-20 regular season is complete and that the next game played will kick off the playoffs.

NHL’s Return to Play Plan

This year’s playoff format adds eight additional teams to the mix for the Stanley Cup. The seven teams that are out are the Sabres, Devils, Ducks, Sharks, Kings, Senators and Red Wings.

This 24-team format, which had been negotiated for months now, will see the top four teams in each conference claim automatic berths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

These teams will get a bye past the play-in round and according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the NHL is considering having the top four seeds play a few games against each other to determine seeding. Ties in these games between the top four seeds would be broken by their regular season seeding.

In the Eastern Conference, the Bruins (+325 to win the East at BetOnline), Lightning, Capitals and Flyers would stand pat.

In the Western Conference, the Blues (+450 to win the West at BetOnline), Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars would receive byes.

The matchups for the play-in round would be:

Eastern Conference

  • No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens
  • No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers
  • No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers
  • No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets

Western Conference

  • No. 5 Oilers vs. No. 12 Blackhawks
  • No. 6 Predators vs. No. 11 Coyotes
  • No. 7 Canucks vs. No. 10 Wild
  • No. 8 Flames vs. No. 9 Jets

Where Will the Games be Played?

Bettman explained that the games will be played in hub cities, with the Eastern Conference playing in one city and the Western Conference playing in another. The league explained that “each conference is assigned a “hub” city with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities and in-market transportation.”

The teams will be limited to 50 members of personnel in the “hub” city “with only a small number of support staff permitted to enter the event areas.”

The NHL hasn’t determined which cities will be chosen but Bettman stated that Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver are all under consideration.

Some of the teams involved could end up having a slight home ice advantage, so keep an eye on this before placing your NHL picks.

The formats for the first two rounds are up in the air but the Stanley Cup Finals will be played as a best-of-seven series.

When Will Teams Return?

The teams will be able to return in early June with small-group gatherings on or off the ice. Full-team training camps won’t return until mid-July though.

A lot remains up in the air regarding the future of the season, but the NHL is setting an example that the NBA and MLB should follow.

The NHL has not stated how safety regulations for the likely two hub cities will be handled. There’s still a lot of work to be done but agreeing on the playoff format is a positive first step.