Are you ready for some hockey action again?
Well, sports fans, it looks like the NHL is going to be playing again on the ice -this summer.
NHL action will be starting up soon, as long as the various governmental and health care entities in both the United States and Canada agree on a multitude of COVID-19 related issues surrounding the resumption of hockey play.
The NHL announced on Tuesday, May 26th their “Return to Play Plan” which is still of course in the planning stages.
At this point, there won’t be a resumption of regular season play but a move straight into a 24 team playoff over the summer and leading into the early fall this year.
The 24 teams that are moving on to the playoff rounds include 16 teams that will play in a tournament and then face the top four teams from each conference. All teams advancing to the playoff rounds were selected based on point percentages as they stood on March 12th.
Nine cities have been chosen by the NHL to be playoff hub cities: Chicago, Dallas, Columbus, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh have all been mentioned as the likely cities for the playoff tournament phase. The second round of the playoffs will move to one hub city in the Eastern Conference and one city for the Western Conference. Current Covid-19 restrictions are still in place and the NHL playoff tournament starting date is still contingent upon public health guidelines in each of these cities and in both the United States and Canada.
In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers will have a first round bye and play each other in a seeding round. In a similar structure, the Western Conference will be represented by the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars who have also earned a first round bye and move to the seeding round.
The Eastern Conference first round of the playoffs are expected to be a best of five series and include:
- Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
- Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers
- New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
- Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Western Conference first round of the playoffs will have the following play each other in a similar best of five series:
- Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks
- Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes
- Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild
- Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets
Seven teams will be left out of the initial playoff tournament due to having the lowest points: Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.
The winners of the initial group of 16 will move on to play the first round seeds based on the seeding round tournament. However, there is no official timeframe for this tournament to begin and of course continual
health concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic are still of paramount importance. The NHL has also discussed only allowing a total of 50 personnel to travel with each team including players, coaches and staff to limit face-to-face exposure to a minimum.
The NHL plans on eventually moving the playoff tournament to one hub city for each conference and finally move to the Stanley Cup final which is still planned on being a best of seven series.
While this 24 team tournament may be less than desired for many hockey fans, the simple fact that the NHL and the NHLPA have come up with an agreed format and are moving forward with bringing hockey back to North America is a significant sign of progress and a somewhat return to normalcy in our lives that has become anything but “normal” over the last few months.
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