The NHL will go straight to the playoffs and abandon the regular season if hockey does return. This week, league commissioner Gary Bettman announced a Return To Play Plan, which includes the NHL restarting the season going straight into the playoffs. And instead of 16 teams, there will be 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup.
Bettman explained the reason for doing this, which includes wanting to have an 82-game season for 2020-21. "As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day for NHL fans," Bettman said via ESPN. "Since March 12, we've been hopeful and optimistic that by developing all options and alternatives, we could get to this point. I know I join sports fans everywhere when I say we cannot wait for the players to hit the ice again."
The league and players have agreed on the format, but the next step is having the NHL Players' Association approve on returning to play. The other issue is finding places to host the games. Bettman said the games would be played in empty arenas in two hub cities. The cities being considered are Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver. Due to the Canadian government mandatory 14-day quarantine, it's likely Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver won't be chosen.
NHL deputy commissioner Billy Daly talked about the challenges of having a hub city in Canada. "The interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players' ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room, we won't be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub city," he said. "We're faced with having to find a solution to that."
Here's how the playoff system would work. The top four teams in each conference will play in a separate round-robin tournament to determine seeding in the first round. The remaining 16 teams will play best-of-five play-in series which will determine which teams advance to the traditional 16-team playoff bracket. The NHL 2019-20 season was postponed on March 12, one day after the NBA season. At the time of the postponement, the Boston Bruins were the top team in the league with 100 points. Right behind them was the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues with 94 points.