Sports are slowly coming back after over two and a half months into a quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR and the German Bundesliga are notable leagues resuming their respective seasons but none of the traditional “big four” sports leagues which normally would be playing in May, have announced plans to return to play. That is, until now.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the eventual return of the National Hockey League. Titled the “Return to Play Plan,” Bettman revealed a 24-team tournament format that would be a way to conclude the 2019-20 NHL season as long as it’s safe to return.
How this will look is that there will be two 12-team conference playoffs. The top four seeds will play in a round-robin format to determine seeding while seeds 5 through 12 will play each other in a qualifying round best-of-five series. Winners of those series will face the top seeds and despite some small tweaks, will mostly resemble a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoff setup. Seeds were determined by points percentage as of March 12 and each conference will play in a “hub city,” among 10 potential locations, that’ll be announced at a later date.
Under this system, the top seeds in the Eastern Conference will include the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers. Top seeds in the Western Conference will include the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Rapids, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars.
Qualifying round matchups will contain the following teams:
(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
(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
As far as when these games are set to be played, that’s unknown at the moment. Bettman announced a four-phase system that will be followed before games can resume. Bettman said games will not be played before the first half of July and revealed that he anticipates games would be played “over the summer and into the early fall.”
It’s not a complete return but it’s at least a solid plan moving forward barring any unforeseen circumstances. Teams are not going to be on the ice just yet but there is light at the end of the tunnel that hockey may be back very soon.