NHL announces plans for return to play, 2020 draft lottery

Gary Bettman updated fans on the NHL's Return to Play Plan, including the 24-team playoff format and the fact that two hub cities will host the games.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has outlined the league’s plan to return with a 24-team playoff format and how the 2020 draft lottery will work.

“When the go-ahead from medical experts and the relevant government authorities is given, 24 of our 31 teams will resume play,” said Bettman on Tuesday in an exclusive announcement on Tim & Sid.

As reported by Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston, the NHL plans to employ a 24-team playoff system with order of finish determined by each team’s points percentage as of March 11, when the NHL season was paused. The top four teams in each conference will claim an automatic berth in the first round of the playoffs and not have to compete in the play-in round. They will, however, play a three-game intra-conference round robin to determine Round 1 seeding. Regular-season overtime rules will apply to these games.

The remaining eight teams in each conference will play a best-of-five “qualifying round” series to determine which teams advance to the first round of the playoffs. These games will be played with playoff overtime rules.

For purposes of record-keeping and awards, Bettman noted the 2019-20 regular season is considered to be over.

It has not yet been determined if the winners of the qualifying round will be re-seeded for the playoffs, or if this will follow a bracket tournament-style format. Bettman also indicated that the Return To Play Committee is still discussing if the first and second round of the playoffs will be best-of-five or best-of-seven, but confirmed the conference final and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven.

Bettman also confirmed that the qualifying round series would be as follows:

Eastern Conference

• 5) Pittsburgh vs. 12) Montreal
• 6) Carolina vs. 11) Rangers
• 7) Islanders vs. 10) Florida
• 8) Toronto vs. 9) Columbus

Western Conference

• 5) Edmonton vs. 12) Chicago
• 6) Nashville vs. 11) Arizona
• 7) Vancouver vs. 10) Minnesota
• 8) Calgary vs. 9) Winnipeg

While the NHL hopes to move into Phase 2 of its return to play policy (allowing for small group workouts) as early as next week, Bettman acknowledged it was too early to set hard dates for next steps. He did, however, indicate Phase 3 (opening of training camps) wouldn’t open before July 1 and that he envisions the league playing into the early fall.

“At this time we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances and the needs of our players.”

The commissioner also said decisions on which two cities would be selected as hubs to complete a season have not yet been determined, but he did list the following destinations as being under consideration: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

“The final determinations will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing availability and government regulations,” he said.

Bettman also shared the NHL’s plan for how the draft lottery will be conducted.

There will be 15 clubs eligible to win the first-overall selection: the seven teams who will not resume play and the eight teams that are eliminated in the best-of-five qualifying round. The draft lottery, however, will be conducted in one or two phases, depending on how the first phase plays out on June 26.

“The seven clubs that did not resume play and the eight qualifying round clubs that do not advance into the playoffs will enter the draft lottery,” Bettman said. “At the time of the first phase draws we won’t know which eight teams won’t advance from the qualifying round, so we have designated temporary placeholders with the odds that the collective group would have had.”

If each of the top three selections are won by teams not returning to play, there will be no need for a second phase of the lottery. Those seven teams will have the same odds of getting a top-three pick as they would have in normal circumstances. The eight placeholders teams will start with approximately a three per cent chance of getting the first overall pick.

However, if any of the three draws are won by a placeholder team, a Phase 2 lottery will take place before the conference quarterfinal begins. In this lottery, only the eight teams eliminated in the qualifying round will be involved and each of them will have the same odds to move into the top three (12.5 per cent).

When the top three is decided, the remainder of the first round will be slotted in reverse order of their 2019-20 points percentage. The draft itself will now be conducted after the conclusion of the playoffs, but no date has yet been set for the event.

“The health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount,” Bettman said. “While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so.”


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