The NHL is getting ready to drop the puck again this summer.
Commissioner Gary Bettman held a formal press conference Tuesday afternoon.
After weeks of speculation, the details of a return to play plan are now public.
Forget about resuming the regular season; the Stanley Cup Playoffs are now front and center.
And this time around, 24 teams (12 in each conference) are making the cut.
Here are the basics:
The @NHL has released a Return to Play Plan for the 2019-20 season.
◾ 24 teams to compete for #StanleyCup
◾ 2 hub cities will host games
◾ Protocol for return to training
◾ Draft Lottery
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
The Stanley Cup Playoffs typically consists of 16 franchises (eight per conference).
The move opens the door for bubble teams to make the cut.
“At the pause, we committed to resuming play only when appropriate and prudent,” said 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.”
More on NHL return to play plan
Keep in mind, March 11 is the last time NHL teams took the ice.
The coronavirus pandemic even forced the cancellation of March Madness betting.
And in the NHL’s case, 189 regular-season games were wiped off the calendar.
For now, the league is sharing a basic timeline via a press release.:
Timing and sites will be determined at a future date and will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations.
The key step is reaching Phase 4.
Here is the general guide:
- Early June for Phase 2: It is expected teams will be permitted to return to home facilities. This will be for small group, voluntary, and on-and off-ice training.
- No earlier than first half of July for Phase 3: Formal training camps will begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities.
- TBD for Phase 4: Four teams in two hub cities will compete in seeding round robins, a qualifying round, and conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On the upside, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy granted the go-ahead pro sports teams returning to training.
And that’s good news for the Philadelphia Flyers. Their practice facility is located in South Jersey.
What are the odds on Las Vegas as an NHL hub city?
Here is one thing we do know: Games will not take place in Newark (home of the New Jersey Devils) or Philadelphia.
Neither town is among the 10 hub finalists. These are the NHL cities still under consideration:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Eastern Conference teams will be assigned to one location, while the Western Conference squads will relocate to another.
And for the latter, Las Vegas stands out as an ideal location. For one, T-Mobile Arena, home of the Vegas Golden Knights, sits on The Strip.
The fact that there are 150,000 hotel rooms, several of which are within walking distance, certainly helps.
In terms of which people will be allowed in the arenas, the NHL will set a cap.
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.
So what about the fans? The press release does not mention fans, but it’s likely you won’t be able to see the games live.
Flyers are in, Devils are out
So what does all this mean for the Philadelphia Flyers? And for the NJ Devils for that matter?
The orange and black are ranked fourth in the Eastern Conference. This means Philly will participate in a round-robin format with three other squads:
- Boston Bruins
- Washington Capitals
- Tampa Bay Lightning
Eight teams will compete in a best-of-five qualifying round. Here are the matchups:
- Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)
- Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)
- New York Islanders (7) vs, Florida Panthers (10)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
The Devils (28-29-12) are eliminated along with six other franchises.
There are still some points to be ironed out for the NHL’s return to play plan and a definitive schedule has yet to be released.
But there’s hope, NJ sports betting fans. Even if the Devils won’t be dancing until next year.