NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held a rare live national address on Tuesday afternoon to update hockey fans on the NHL Return to Play Plan. Not all of it was easily digestible and the NHL Draft Lottery explanation was admittedly complicated. The unique circumstances resulted in unique solutions and the NHL even acknowledged it wasn’t perfect. But the NHL return is pushing ahead.
“We’re doing this because our fans in overwhelming numbers want us to do so,” Bettman said.
Bettman also announced the 2020 NHL Draft will be held after the conclusion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
The commissioner also stressed at the beginning that health and safety were the overriding concerns.
For those who haven’t followed the developments over the past two weeks, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament in which the top four teams of each conference are given byes and the remaining eight teams have a five-game play-in series.
In a twist, the NHL will not treat the five-game play-in series as Round One. A loss in the play-in series will be treated as not making the playoffs, for the purpose of the NHL Draft lottery.
It is complex, but the commissioner believes it works.
“I had a lot of trouble explaining it internally,” Bettman laughed with NBCsn host Mike Tirico. “It’s one thing to have it in your head, it’s another thing to get it out externally.”
Phase 1 of the Draft Lottery will be held on June 26. However, because teams that are scheduled to play in the 24-team playoff have not been eliminated, the draft will be held in phases, if necessary.
If the seven teams which did not make the 24-team tournament win the top three selections, then no additional phases will be held. However, the league will include eight unnamed spots for teams that are in the tournament (denoted in the lottery by Team A, Team B, etc…). If a tournament team wins a lottery pick, then additional phases will be held among the eliminated teams to determine who gets the lottery pick.
Got it? Yeah, it isn’t easy.
For example, teams that lose the play-in series will be eligible for the NHL Draft lottery. The Pittsburgh Penguins will play the Montreal Canadiens in the play-in series. Should the Penguins suffer an upset, they would be dumped into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft lottery with the other eight teams which lost. If one of the unmarked team slots are chosen, one of the eight teams will be selected for that pick. The Penguins, in effect, would have a 3% chance of winning the top overall pick if they lose the play-in series.
No, still not easy.
“Obviously, these are extraordinary and unprecedented times. Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect,” Bettman said. “And I am certain, depending on which team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently.”
“But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams as a practical matter that might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was lost. And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion.”
*The NHL hopes to move to Phase 2 in early June, which includes small group workouts at team facilities. Read more about Phase 2 here.
*The league hopes to move to Phase 3, which is training camp, not before July 1.
*Teams will be permitted 50 personnel and small support staff. There will be comprehensive testing at the hub cities. Teams will be responsible for testing in Phase 2.
*Phase 4 will begin approximately two weeks after Phase 3, as clubs will report to the hub cities.
*The NHL has stipulated there will be only two hub cities, one for each conference. The factors of choosing a hub city will include governmental issues are secure items:
*There are 10 cities in consideration for hub status, including Pittsburgh. In post-conference remarks, Bettman seemed to exclude Canadian cities.
“There are governmental issues. For example, currently, we don’t think we can do this in the Canadian markets because there is a 14-day quarantine,” Bettman said. “We are talking with the Canadian government about it.”
“…If we conduct training camp and go to a Canadian city, but have to quarantine for an additional 14 days, that isn’t going to work.”
The league is about three weeks away from making final decisions.
*The NHL and NHLPA return to play committee has NOT yet finalized the length of Round One and Round Two series. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a best of seven.
*The 2019-20 season is officially complete and statistics final.
*The top four seeds in each conference will play a round-robin tournament to determine seeds. So, even though the Boston Bruins were the runaway winner for the President’s Trophy, Boston may not be the top overall seed, pending how they fare in the round-robin play.
For example, If Philadelphia Flyers won all four round-robin games, they would be the No. 1 seed.
Bettman said the active players, including Connor McDavid and Ron Hainsey, communicated teams’ desire to have the round-robin mean something, so tthe teams weren’t cold before the playoffs.
*The two sides are still discussing reseeding the tournament after the play-in series, or if they will use firm brackets.
*Which teams will get “home-ice advantage” in the NHL return is also being discussed.