NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced today in a press conference that the league will end the regular season and move on straight on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The season was suspended on March 12th, and it was announced today that it has been completed. With the completion of the season, the Boston Bruins have won the Presidents’ Trophy, which is given to the team with the highest point total in the regular season.
The plan to return is laid out over four phases, but the league is currently in phase one, which mandates that the players must self-isolate as much as possible.
Phase two will begin in early June and will allow players to begin on and off ice training in small groups at local rinks. This can only begin when health experts deem that it is safe enough. In this phase, there will also be comprehensive testing.
Phase three is going to mark the beginning of formal training camp which will start no later than July 1st. This phase should last a few weeks as the players need to get back into game shape.
Phase four will begin once training camp is over and the Stanley Cup Playoffs will start under a few new rules. The Stanley Cup Playoffs normally consist of 16 teams, eight in the Eastern Conference and eight in the Western Conference. With the incomplete season, the bracket will be expanded to 24 teams with 12 from each conference. The top four teams in each conference will have a bye from the first round of the playoffs, but they will instead compete in a round-robin to decide the top four seeds. The remaining eight teams will face off in a best of five series to decide who moves on to play in the final 16.
In order to isolate the teams and lower the risk of anyone getting COVID-19, two “hub cities” will host one conference each. These cities have not been decided yet, but there is a final list of 10 cities that are being considered. One city will then host the conference finals and the Stanley Cup.
While announcing the plan makes it feel like sports are soon coming back, there is still a long way to go. In the press conference, Bettman emphasized that the league will not resume until health experts say it is safe enough to do so. The playoffs will most likely not begin until August, which puts a full 2020-2021 season in major jeopardy.