On Tuesday the NHL officially announced its return to play plan for the completion of the 2019-20 season.
Here is what we know.
— The 24-team playoff format that has been talked about is the official set-up.
— It will take the top-12 teams in each conference (based on points percentage as of March 12) with the top-four teams earning an automatic bye into the playoffs. Those teams will play each other in a round-robin tournament to determine the top-four seeds. Those games will be played with regular season rules for overtime and shootout (3-on-3 for five minutes then a shootout if tied after regulation).
— The remaining teams in each conference will play best-of-five “play-in” series to determine the Round 1 matchups for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
— This means the Pittsburgh Penguins will in fact play the Montreal Canadiens.
That takes care of the “who” will be involved.
As for the where, when, and a few other specifics, well, that is still undecided.
Lets’s start with the “where.”
The NHL will designate two hub cities (one for each conference) to play these games, and as of now there are 10 cities that are under consideration, including Pittsburgh.
Those cities: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Teams will be allowed to take 50 people with them their to their hub cities. That total will include players, coaches, and any support staff that is needed. The hub cities will include a secure hotel, arena, practice facilities, and transportation
Commissioner Gary Bettman stressed the importance of doing this in a safe way and that the health and safety of the players, coaches, officials, team support staff, and community is the highest priority. Local governments and relevant health and medical agencies will dictate when all of this is.
Phase 2 of the NHL’s re-start plan will involve team facilities opening for small, voluntary workouts and the hope is that can happen in early June.
Phase 3 will be the start of official team training camps, and according to Bettman that is not expected to happen before July 1 or “the early part of July.”
Phase 4 is when the re-start officially begins with games.
Other important factors, including playoff matchups
There are still some unknowns at play here regarding the actual format regarding seedings and length of series. Bettman said the league and the players are still determining if the postseason matchups (and the entire postseason as a whole) will be done by a straight bracket, or if seeding and re-seeding will take place.
It has also not been decided as to whether or not the first two rounds of the actual playoffs will be the normal best-of-seven, or if they will be best-of-five like the play-in round is. Bettman said they anticipate playing the play-in round and the first two rounds of the playoffs in a little over a month.
The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven. Their location is also TBD but it is anticipated they will be in one of the two hub cities.
Then there is the draft lottery
This is where things kind of went off the rails because it is a two-phase format.
The first phase will include the seven teams at the bottom of the standings that are not in the 24-team return to play format, with the 8-15 spots being held by placeholders for the teams that are playing in the play-in round.
As is my understanding: If one or more teams from the 8-15 spots move up in the lottery, then the play-in losers would have an equal-odds draw to see who gets the top-three picks in the draft, with the remaining teams slotted by points percentage.
That means, in theory, the Penguins could still win the 2019-20 NHL draft lottery. It is a long shot, of course, but because the first-round pick they traded to Minnesota is lottery protected, it could be back in play for them if they would happen to lose the play-in round to Montreal.
Make sense? No? Well, you are not alone.
No more regular season stats for this season
There is also this: For record-keeping and award purposes the 2019-20 NHL regular season is considered complete, so any numbers compiled in the play-in round or round-robin round will not count toward a regular season stat total.
That means Leon Draisaitl is the NHL scoring champion while David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin will share the goal-scoring crown.
Bryan Rust finishes as the Penguins’ leading goal-scorer with 27, while Evgeni Malkin finishes as the leading point producer with 74 points.