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24 teams to head into playoffs when NHL returns, no dates or locations set

Last Updated May 26, 2020 at 4:49 pm EDT

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

When medical experts and government authorities deem it safe, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says 24 teams will head right into a new playoff format in two hub cities.

Bettman announced the league’s plan for return in a video message in which he says the 2019-2020 season is now considered complete.

“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel. We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until it is appropriate and prudent and are approved to do so,” said Bettman.

The NHL season was paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The top 12 teams in each conference would be resuming play while the seven teams left over will enter the draft lottery.

All Canadian teams have made it through to the 24-team round, except for the Ottawa Senators.

Each conference will be assigned a hub city with secure hotels, arena practice facilities and transportation within the city.

The clubs in each of the two hub cities will take part in a conference-based round robin, qualifying rounds and then the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The timing and location of the return is to be determined on the advice of medical experts and approval from government authorities.

“Things are evolving rapidly and when we decide on locations, we want it to be based on the available information at the time that we need too make that determination.”

A short list of hub city locations under consideration include: Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Bettman said they anticipate playing into the summer and early fall.

Every team will be limited to only 50 personnel with a small number of event staff permitted in event areas.

The plan was laid out in four phases, the phase one currently in effect. Phase two will see clubs being able to return to their home facilities on June 12 for small group training.

Formal training camps will be in phase three, but Bettman said those won’t happen any earlier than July 1.

Phase four will be teams headed to the hub cities for the playoffs where there will be a comprehensive system of testing in place.

The top four teams in each conference will participate in a round robin for first round seeding while the remaining eight teams will play a best-of-five series to advance to the first round of playoffs, as previously announced.

The return to play committee is still determining whether the first and second round playoffs will be best-of-five series or best-of-seven series.

They anticipate it will take a little over a month to get to the Stanley Cup Finals where a best-of-seven series will be played in one of the two hub cities.

The Toronto Maple Leafs would face-off against Columbus in the qualifying round.