NHL Announces Details on New Season
3 Jun, 2020
North American ice hockey league the NHL has spelled out its masterplan to resume its 2019-20 season by heading straight into an expanded playoffs, with 10 cities shortlisted to serve as two hubs for the action to take place.
The NHL, which includes 24 teams from the US and seven from Canada, has become the first American major league to set out a formal system for return to competition amid COVID-19. The NHL suspended its season on March 12 due to concerns over the pandemic, having played 85% of the 2019-20 regular-season schedule that started in early October.
Under the ‘Return to Play Plan’, the regular season has been declared concluded, with the 189 games originally scheduled from March 12 to April 4 not being played. A total of 24 teams will resume play made up of the top 12 in each Conference on the basis of points percentage at the point of suspension. This means the season ends for Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.
Since the League’s pause on March 12, the NHL has been in Phase 1 with teams having been instructed to self-isolate as much as possible. In early June, it is expected that teams will be permitted to return to home facilities in Phase 2 for small group, voluntary, and on- and off-ice training.
Not earlier than first half of July, Phase 3 is expected to commence where formal training camps will begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities. While the League hasn’t specified dates, Phase 4 would see the 24 teams compete in two hub cities in Seeding Round Robins, a Qualifying Round and Conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The two hub cities will be selected from among: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver. However, the potential for Canadian cities to be chosen is likely to be affected by the mandatory 14-day quarantine currently put in place by the country’s government.
Each Conference will be assigned a hub city with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities and in-market transportation. Teams will be limited to 50 personnel in the hub city with only a small number of support staff permitted to enter the event areas. Timing and sites will be determined at a future date and will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations. When staged, games will be played behind closed doors.
“At the pause, we committed to resuming play only when appropriate and prudent,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “We are hopeful the Return To Play Plan will allow us to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup in a manner in which the health and safety of our players, on-ice officials, team staff and associated individuals involved are paramount. Accordingly, an essential component of the Plan is a rigorous, regular schedule of testing.
“On the hockey side, the return-to-play format reflects the League’s extraordinary competitive balance while honouring the tradition and integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly added: “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. We’re faced with having to find a solution to that. Hopefully we can.”
Bettman said that while a return to action is not guaranteed, he is hopeful the NHL can avoid the situation whereby the Stanley Cup won’t be awarded for only the third time in the League’s history. The Spanish flu put paid to the 1919 tournament, while the 2005 season was cancelled due to a player lockout.
He added: “While we are hopeful, it is our goal we will be able to resume play and award the Stanley Cup. We intend to do so within in a timeframe that will enable us to get back to a full calendar for the 2020-21 season.”