Rather than finishing the regular season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this afternoon announced a return to play plan in which 24 teams - the top 12 from each conference ranked by points percentage - will play a qualifying round before the Stanley Cup playoffs if the league can resume this summer.
While the Bruins will be able to avoid the dangers of potentially getting upset in that best-of-five qualifying round, the current system of the round-robin format could prove costly for Bruce Cassidy's club - given that the tournament will be used to determine seeding once the regular 16-team playoff format gets underway in the following round. "I know I join sports fans everywhere when I say we can not wait for the players to hit the ice again".
If the travel ban is still being enforced by the time Phase 3 of the NHL's plan rolls around, and no exemption is given to the league, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver will automatically be scratched off the list of potential destinations - leaving Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis/St. Paul in the running to host the unprecedented playoff tournament.
"At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return-to-play will be determined by both developing circumstances, and the needs of our players", Bettman said.
Bettman revealed that selection of the final two hub cities will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations. "Phase 1" began when the league suspended games. Usually, only 16 teams make the play-offs. But the knock against the 24-team plan is that the Canadiens had a zero per cent chance at making the playoffs when the season was postponed on March 12 and the Blackhawks had only a 2.6 per cent shot.
The top four Western Conference teams would be the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars.
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The top four teams in each conference will have a bye for the first round. "We anticipate playing this without fans, but if at some point things change, then obviously we'd reevaluate." . The last time we did a head count, 44% of our players were in the markets in which they play, and 17% of our players were outside North America. Each team would be limited to 50 personnel in the hub city, with limited support staff permitted in event areas.
Eight host cities were named as contenders and two still need to be picked, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. The NHL will allow expanded rosters for the postseason, when the Wild begins a best-of-five play-in series against Vancouver.
That's sure to be the case for all the leagues that paused their seasons in March (NBA, MLS, NHL) and for MLB, which should have started its season on March 26 but may not have a season at all.
"There are some issues crossing borders and having to quarantine that we have to deal with", Bettman acknowledges.
What do you think of the National Hockey League regular season coming to a close?