The NHL season came to a halt on March 12, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced an indefinite suspension. Over two months later, good news is finally here for hockey fans. This week the league laid out its return to play contingency plan–and it starts with the postseason.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this month that canceling the season was not an option. On Tuesday, he produced a robust plan for restarting the season, noting that the playoffs will consist of the top 24 teams playing in two hub cities, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. The exact location of those cities will be determined at a later date.
The structure of the NHL postseason will be as follows:
- The top four teams in each conference will earn a first-round bye
- Eastern Conference Byes: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers
- Wester Conference Byes: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars
- The fifth through 12th seeds will play a best of five series to determine who makes up the 16 teams in the postseason.
NHL Eastern Conference Qualifying Round Schedule
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens – winner to face No. 4 Philadelphia Flyers
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers – winner to face No. 3 Washington Capitals
No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers – winner to face No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets – winner to face No. 1 Boston Bruins
NHL Western Conference Qualifying Round Schedule
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks – winner to face No. 4 Dallas Stars
No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes – winner to face No. 3 Vegas Golden Knights
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild – winner to face No. 2 Colorado Avalanche
No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets – winner to face No. 1 St. Louis Blues
A maximum of 50 personnel will be allotted for each club, while an extensive testing protocol is put in each site. Phase two of the proposed return allows clubs to resume training and practice facilities in June.
Phase three of the plan signals the start of formal training camps with entry to be determined by both medical and civil authorities. Bettman noted in the call he doesn’t envision this happening before the first half of July.
When will the NHL restart?
Fans can expect to see live NHL games in Phase 4. At that time, clubs will report to their host cities and begin to play. All of that will be based on developing circumstances of COVID-19 and the conditions of players, but if all goes as planned, the goal is for the postseason to start mid-summer and play into the beginning of fall.
While the two hub cities have yet to be determined, Bettman noted that the choices had been narrowed down to Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.