Gary Bettman, NHL Release Return to Play Plan and Playoff Format



Jacob Chaimovitch, Editor

More and more facilities and stores are re-opening their doors to the public as we enter week 10 of quarantine in the US. Everyone is dipping their toes back in the metaphorical pool and no one has taken more caution than sports leagues. The KBO and Bundesliga in South Korea and Germany respectively opened their doors recently and, soon, the United States hopes to follow suit. On Tuesday, May 26th at around 4:30 pm EST, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held a virtual press conference in his home and broke down the NHL’s official plan to return to play, which included a temporary playoff format to determine a Stanley Cup Champion.

Bettman started by saying that “the health and safety of our players, coaches, central support staff, and our communities are paramount”. He wanted to put emphasis on the fact that the NHL is taking cautious steps to keep everyone safe and it was a recurring theme throughout the broadcast. He then went on to say that 24 of the 31 teams will resume play in the new playoff structure and the other seven teams will enter the Draft Lottery, implying and later stating explicitly that the regular season had concluded.

The playoff format is as followed. The top four teams in each conference will each play all other conference teams once in a round-robin format to determine the top four playoff seeds; ties in record will be broken based on points percentage. They will also be played under regular-season OT rules, meaning a five minute 3-on-3 overtime followed by a shootout if necessary. Seeds 5-12 will face each other in a best-of-5 series following playoff OT rules, meaning a repeated 20 minute overtime until someone scores. The series’ will follow high vs low. This means that the 5 seed faces the 12 seed, 6 seed vs 11 seed, 7 seed vs 10 seed, and 8 seed vs 9 seed. Reordering of the bracket based on who advances will occur after the first round. The games will be played in two separate ‘hub cities’; one for the East and one for the West. There are ten hub cities in consideration as of the writing of this article: Chicago, Colombus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.

The 2020 Draft Lottery will be open to the seven teams that did not make the playoffs and the eight teams that were eliminated in the first round. There may be two phases, depending on the draw of the teams in the first phase. That first phase will have three draws to determine the top three picks in the Draft. Because the first phase will occur before the playoffs, eight placeholder cards will be mixed with the seven teams to represent teams that had been eliminated from the playoffs. A second phase only occurs if one or more of the placeholder teams get a top-three pick, in which the eliminated teams will have equal odds at filling the placeholder pick. The remaining picks will be filled in reverse order of points percentage.

Yes, it sounds very complicated. Nothing about any of these processes is going to be simple. Hats off to Mr. Bettman for orchestrating this format and keeping the NHL and its players and staff safe during this unpredictable time. While the dates and locations haven’t been set in stone, that is what is set to occur in the coming months. Stay tuned as to when those events will happen.