Earlier today, Gary Bettman made an official announcement regarding the NHL’s Return to Play plan, and how they hope to bring back hockey.
Basically, everything we’ve heard over the last few weeks has been made official. The 24 team playoff format has been approved, the top four teams in each conference will be re-seeded based on the round robin play-in games, and the lottery format that has been talked about over the last couple days has also been approved.
There were a few interesting things to take away from this news, so let’s dive in.
The regular season is done
Yeah, the 2019-20 regular season is officially over, so stats and records are final, and awards will be considered based on the games that have been played.
So, Leon Draisaitl wins the Art Ross, Alex Ovechkin and/or David Pastrnak wins the Rocket Richard, and Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak win the Jennings. This also means that Auston Matthews won’t get a chance to reach 50 goals or break Rick Vaive’s single season goal record.
That said, the league hasn’t decided what to do with stats from the play-in round, whether it would be a part of the playoffs or if it would be it’s own thing. Since it’s for sure not a part of the regular season, it makes more sense that those stats be a part of the playoffs, as opposed to existing in some non-existent state.
There are a lot more hub cities
While Bettman didn’t announce which cities will be hosting games, he did say which cities were being looked at.
Complete list of cities under consideration to become a NHL hub: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver.
Two selected later based on COVID-19 spread, testing capacity and government regulations.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 26, 2020
So, Toronto is still considered as an option, but I wouldn’t hold my breath that they do since the Canadian government requires a 14 day quarantine when entering the country. I’d hope that they’d be picked if they were the safest options, but logistically I can see why the NHL may opt to go to American cities.
It should also be noted that they won’t be picking for a few weeks at least, which makes sense. Considering how rapid each city’s COVID-19 cases are changing, making that pick with over a month before needing to would be very shortsighted.
Seeding and round length is not decided
While the 24 team playoff format has been made official, there are still a couple things that haven’t been finalized yet.
First, they haven’t decided whether the set up for the sixteen team and eight team rounds will be bracketed or re-seeded. It probably makes more sense for it be re-seeded, as the proposed bracketing format could result in the first seed playing the eight seed while the fourth seed plays the 12th seed.
The other thing that isn’t official is the round length for the first and second rounds of the playoffs. It will at least be best of five, but they don’t know it’ll be best of five or seven. I’d imagine a lot of it will depend on how soon the playoffs would start.
The Draft Lottery is a bit complicated
Okay, so hold tight for this one, there’s a bit of explaining to do.
There are potentially two phases to the draft lottery. The first phase will be held on June 26th before the qualifying rounds start, and will be like what we’ve seen for the past few years, where the bottom fifteen teams all have a chance at the top three picks, based on these odds.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 26, 2020
The top seven teams are all guaranteed to be a part of the lottery because they aren’t in the 24 team playoffs. The other eight teams will be made up of the teams that lose in the play-in round of the 24 team bracket. If the top three picks go to any of the teams in the top seven of this list, that will be it for the lottery, and the eight teams from the play-in will be given their picks based on their points percentage from the season, in reverse order obviously.
Now, here’s where it gets a bit more complex. If any of those spots allotted to the play-in teams gets a top three pick, there will be a second phase to the lottery. This will see the eight teams eliminated from the play-in have their own lottery to decide which of those eight teams gets the pick. The odds will be an even 12.5% spread among the eight teams.
So, for a quick example. Say the first and third overall picks go to a play-in team, and the second overall pick goes to Detroit. There would be no second phase lottery for the second pick because it went to Detroit, but there would be two separate ones to decide the first and third picks.
What this means for the Leafs is that if they lose the play-in, there’s still a chance they can draft in the first round if they win the lottery. It’s very slim odds at only 3.0625%, but it’s a chance. And the fact that the first lottery is happening before the qualifiers means that we’ll know if that chance exists. If all three picks goes to the seven teams not in the playoffs, we know the Leafs won’t get their first round pick and can confidently cheer for a Cup win.
That said, it’s really dumb. It should just be a lottery between the teams not in the playoffs, but instead sixteen teams in the middle of the pack are in the advantageous position of winning the Cup or a top three pick.
No dates are official, and the schedule is quite flexible
One thing Bettman stressed was that no date is official, aside from the June 26th draft lottery. As I mentioned before, these are constantly changing times. While COVID-19 cases were on the decline for a few weeks, they’re starting to increase again, and we may be looking at a second wave. The NHL seems to be eyeing a July start time for training camps, but an increase in case, and even potential country shutdowns would delay that, even to the point of cancellation (I’m not positive on this one though. Bettman made it seem like this is officially happening, but it was never confirmed).
This also means that the schedule for next season is in a similar position. The NHL could potentially see a December or January start time for the 2020-21 season, depending on the COVID-19 situation going forward.
Personally, I think they should just cancel this season and focus on trying to have a full 2020-21 season, but sure, waste two full seasons with this format instead of one. I want hockey back, but not at this cost, and the cost of the endangering players lives to the potential of getting the disease.