Finally, the NHL has confirmed some things we already knew, and answered some questions we already had. Yes we are a long way from games on TV, but we now have answers as to what needs to happen before that. With a plan in place and many of the details locked down the league can shift it's focus to testing protocols and making sure the playoffs are completed as safely as possible.
First, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the 24 team format with the top four teams from each conference getting a bye. The remaining teams will play in a play-in series, with seeding based on points percentage. So Seed 5 vs Seed 12, Seed 6 vs Seed 11, Seed 7 vs Seed 10, and Seed 8 vs Seed 9. This play-in round will be a best of five series, while the top four teams will play a round-robin to determine the top four seeds. Also confirmed is the playoffs will take place in two hub cities that have the infrastructure in place to support all 12 teams, along with team staff and personnel. The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup final will each be best of seven series.
What We Learned
The league has broken the return to play into four phases. Phase 1 is still in progress so basically the planning phase. Phase 2, which should start in early June, has players returning to their team’s home facilities and beginning some on-ice work but in a limited capacity. Phase 3 is a formal training camp which the league does not see happening before the first weeks of July. So with a three-week training camp (as the players requested) that means games aren't going to be starting until August at the earliest. Another big piece of news is teams will be limited to 50 personnel per team, so each team is looking at a very limited staff. This is likely being done to lower the number of tests the league would need to make sure everyone is COVID19 free. 10 possible hub cities have now been confirmed as well, including Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, LA, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver and Vegas.
The biggest news of the day belongs to the draft lottery format. The draft lottery will be done in two phases. Phase 1 is the lottery taking place on June 26th, including the seven teams not in the 24 team playoffs and the eight teams that will be eliminated represented by placeholders. These place holders are being used because we won't know which teams have been eliminated at the time of Phase 1. Three drawings will be done one for each of the top three picks. If all three picks go to non-group of 24 teams there will be no Phase 2.
If a placeholder wins any of those first three picks a second lottery will be held, with the team's eliminated in the qualifying round. Each team would then have an equal chance of 12.5% to win that pick. So if a place holder for example Team A wins the number one overall pick, the eight teams eliminated in the qualifying round will all have a 12.5% chance of getting that pick. This comes out to the qualifying round losing teams all having a three percent shot at the top pick. It's safe to say the league isn't planning on any big upsets in the qualifying round. However, the hockey world would lose its collective mind if the Penguins lost to Montreal in the play-in round only to end up with the number one overall pick. Might this incentive those worse teams to lose that play-in round? Probably not. It is still something teams like Chicago, Montreal, or even Arizona might look at and say is it worth us winning and getting into the playoffs when our teams would likely benefit more from a higher first-round pick.
While a lot of questions were answered or confirmed, some still remain. The biggest question is what happens after the qualifying round? The league seems is in favor of a bracket-style, where the qualifying teams would play a set opponent regardless of an upset. This has received push back from the players who believe the top teams should be rewarded for their regular season and face the lowest seed possible. So instead of Seed 1 playing the winner of the Seed 8 vs Seed 9 game, they would play the lowest remaining seed if there was an upset. Another major question is will the standings of the top four be taken into account along with the results of the round-robin? For a team like the Bruins, who were eight points ahead of second seed Tampa, would going 0-3 in the round-robin still mean they are the fourth seed? The final question still needing an answer is the length of rounds two and three before the Conference Finals. Depending on when games finally get underway both of these rounds might be five or seven games.
While I'm not a huge fan of all of these changes, especially the draft lottery, it is a sacrifice I'm willing to make to finish this season. Now with the majority of the plan in place, we can finally start looking forward to games being played again. While questions still remain we are moving in the right direction and moving back to normal step by step. With other leagues still up in the air on their returns keep checking back on all of our team pages for the latest news and updates. Stay safe and healthy out there and LETS GO BRUINS!!!
Featured image courtesy of Mary Altaffer/ Associated Press.