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NHL Announces New Return Format And A Draft Update

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24 teams to compete for the playoffs, 15 teams to fight for the first overall pick

In this photo illustration a National Hockey League (NHL)... Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As reported this morning, Gary Bettman would make a Sportsnet exclusive announcement this afternoon and it’s safe to say that many hockey fans were both excited and intrigued on what the announcement would entail, especially in regards to the NHL draft.

Gary Bettman starts off with reaffirming three very important facts:

a) they will not return until it’s 100% safe and cleared by medical staff and the government

b) the players and fans want the NHL to come back as soon as possible and want this season to resume (if at all possible)

c) The 2019/2020 regular season is deemed to be officially complete

The plan to return

Phase 1

  • It is the current situation which started March 12 and includes the players self isolating as much as possible

Phase 2 - Early June

  • Teams will be allowed to go back to training in small groups

Phase 3 - Not Earlier Than July 1

  • Formal two-week training camp will begin after approval of guidance from health officials and government authorities

Phase 4 - Whenever it is deemed safe to return to play

  • 24 teams will resume play (12 from each conference based on points percentage prior to the stoppage).
  • Remaining 7 teams will enter lottery draft.
  • There will be two hub cities (one for each conference); the shortlist includes Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. The decision is expected to be made in the next 3-4 weeks.
  • Team travel will be limited to 50 personnel.
  • The top 4 teams in each conference will have an automatic berth into the first round and will play in a Round Robin tournament with a regular season format overtime and shootout to determine seeding.
  • The remaining teams will play a best of 5 series with playoff format overtime to determine who makes it into the first round.
  • Lengths and match-ups of the second round are still being determined
  • Stanley Cup finals will be best of 7 series.

Draft Lottery

This is where things get exciting, and slightly confusing.

  • 15 teams to enter the draft lottery (7 teams not making the playoff qualifications and 8 who do not move on from the qualification series).
  • All 15 teams have a shot at the first overall draft pick however, the Sens will maintain their 25% odds (combined with the San Jose Sharks pick).
  • The draft lottery will happen in two phases (potentially) with Phase 1 happening on June 26th where the first three picks will be determined with placeholders for the teams still competing.
  • During Phase 1 of the lottery, if the first overall pick is won by one of the bottom 7 teams they will win that spot however, if the top spot is won by one of the remaining 8 teams still competing; the winner will be determined in Phase 2 depending on the placeholder seeding. The same methodology will be applied to the number two and three picks.
  • Once the top three spots have been awarded (either in Phase 1 or 2); the rest of the spots will be determined in inverse order based on regular season point percentage at the time of the break.
  • If in Phase 1, the top 3 picks are won by the bottom seven teams; there will be no Phase 2 conducted.
  • The NHL draft will be held after the Stanley Cup is awarded; there was no discussion of what the date would be if the season were to be officially cancelled altogether.

There is a lot to digest but the idea of having hockey back (in the right circumstances) is exciting to say the least. There was no mention at the possibility of health concerns continuing to be an issue to the point where this return plan cannot be implemented. It does seem though that the NHL has invested a lot of time and resources into this plan and would not have been so confident making such an announcement if they thought a season cancellation was a huge possibility.

Tim and Sid did also mention that the NHL might consider allowing a maximum amount of fans to attend games later on in the season if the situation allows it and used European and Asian sports leagues as examples where in some instances 1000 fans were allowed to attend games live. Nothing official from Gary Bettman on this topic as I don’t think it is a priority for the league at this point.

I am not a huge fan of the 15 teams having a chance at the number 1 pick format but I am hoping for once, luck is on the Sens side. However, knowing Ottawa we may end up picking the 5 and 6th spot which is the worst they can do.

Gary Bettman insisted that the health and safety of the players and staff was the top priority and that for Phase 4 to begin they would need the final clearance from health officials and a clear plan on how they can continuously test players without impeding local medical resources.

What do you think about the revamped playoff format? Which cities do you think will win the hub cities honours? Do you think the new draft lottery is fair?