NHL Reveals Post-COVID-19 Plans for Season Finale

  • 24-team playoffs will crown a Stanley Cup champion in autumn, after season declared complete
  • NHL first pro sports league to announce comeback plans since COVID-19 suspended activity
  • Initial voluntary training sessions to begin early June, full training camps to follow in July
  • Host playoff city candidates include Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Vancouver
illuminated Staples Center stadium in Los Angeles
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced plans for the NHL playoffs in a 24-team format, to be hosted in two hub cities. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

24-team playoff to crown Stanley Cup champion

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) have reached an agreement to resume the 2019-20 season, declaring the regular season complete. The resulting 24-team playoff format is designed to crown a Stanley Cup champion early autumn.

largest professional sports league in North America to announce decisive plans for a return

The National Hockey League is the largest professional sports league in North America to announce decisive plans for a return, following a suspension of activity for over two-and-a-half months because of COVID-19.

Full training camps to resume July

Bettman revealed on Tuesday that 24 teams would return, when medically cleared, for a unique playoff tournament. The day before, the NHL issued a 22-page memo detailing testing and safety protocols for voluntary practices at team facilities.

Dubbed Phase 2, initial training sessions can begin in early June, providing local shutdown ordinances have been lifted. Bettman stated that the league “[remains] focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel.”

season will conclude with the presentation of the Stanley Cup to the 2019-2020 champion

Full training camps for all players, coaches, and medical staff are scheduled to begin July 1 at the earliest. Following the playoffs, the season will conclude with the presentation of the Stanley Cup to the 2019-2020 champion early autumn.

The NHL joined the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS in suspending games following the coronavirus outbreak back in March. The last NHL games were played on March 11, the same night Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19.

Two chosen cities to host playoffs

The 24-team format will be hosted in one hub city apiece, chosen from the Eastern and the Western Conference. Candidates include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Training camps will be allowed 50 employees

Bettman said training camps will be allowed 50 employees, which includes players, coaches, medical staff, and club officials. All individuals will be tested for the coronavirus throughout the process. The NHL Commissioner did not say whether fans would be allowed to attend the games, which will be televised.

Donald Fehr, leading the Players’ Union, cautioned that although the Union had concurred with the league on the announced plans, there could be changes before play resumes. These include health and safety protocols, together with some remaining financial matters to be addressed in talks leading up to the playoffs.

“This is a living document and we have to make sure that logistically, we can actually implement the steps,” Fehr said.

Eight teams to receive first-round bye

When hockey resumes, the playoff will follow the format approved last week by the executive board of the NHLPA, expanding the field from 16 teams to 24. The teams qualified based on their points percentages at the time the season was suspended.

The top four teams in each conference will receive a first-round bye, and will play three conference-based games each to determine their seedings, one through four. The remaining 16 teams will then commence a best-of-five series, with eight teams advancing to the second round.

While the second round format is still to be decided, the conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals will remain best-of-seven, as usual, and are likely to be played in the two hub cities.