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NHL Officially Announce Return to Play Plan and Two-Phased 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

It is now official. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has officially announced their Return to Play plan for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Through a streaming broadcast that was simulcast on NBC SN and Sportsnet, Bettman confirmed the 24-team plan that the NHLPA approved this past Friday night will be the NHL’s plan. Here are the main points from the broadcast as I saw it on NBC SN:

  • The top 12 teams from each conference by points percentage as of March 12 will play.
  • The remaining 7 teams will be in the NHL Draft Lottery. The New Jersey Devils are among these 7 teams; this announcement confirms they are done until next season.
  • The 2019-20 regular season is complete.
  • Each conference will be assigned to a hub city with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities, and local transportation for players and personnel.
  • Each team is limited to 50personnel in each hub city with a small number of support staff.
  • There will be comprehensive testing by the teams.
  • “Phase 2” to allow small on-ice workouts has begun. The NHL released that out yesterday as part of their Return to Play plan.
  • Formal training camps will be “Phase 3” of the return to play plan. This will take place no earlier than July 1
  • The teams will report to the hub cities in “Phase 4.” There are no dates for this phase yet; it is expected it will be in the Summer into early Fall. There are also no hub cities decided upon at this moment.
  • Ten hub cities are currently under consideration: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Edmonton, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Toronto, and Pittsburgh.
  • Teams will be seeded by points percentage. The top 4 teams in each conference will play in a round robin format to play for First Round seeding in the playoffs. This will have regular season overtime rules. In the East, that will be Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia. In the West, that will be St. Louis, Colorado, Las Vegas, and Dallas.
  • The remaining 8 teams will play each other in a best-of-five series to play into the playoffs. This is known as the Qualifying Round. In the East: Pittsburgh vs. Montreal; Carolina vs. New York Rangers; New York Islanders vs. Florida; and Toronto vs. Columbus. In the West: Edmonton vs. Chicago; Nashville vs. Arizona; Vancouver vs. Minnesota; and Calgary vs. Winnipeg.
  • The playoffs will be conference based. It is still not determined whether there will be re-seeding or whether the first and/or second rounds will be best of five or best of seven. The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a best of seven series.
  • The 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be for the top three picks.
  • The First Phase of the lottery is by June 26. If a non-resuming team wins a lottery, then they get the pick. There are no teams in the Qualifying Round in this phase of the lottery; there are just place holders based on the current draft odds. If all three draws go to non-resuming teams, then there is no Second Phase to the Lottery. If a placeholder wins a draw, then there will be a second phase.
  • The Second Phase of the lottery will be between the Qualifying and First Rounds. This would be for the placeholders that won. Each of the losing teams from the Qualifying Round would have the same odds at 12.5%. They would not know who has which placeholder ahead of time.
  • The remaining teams from the lottery will be seeded for the draft in reverse order by their points percentage in the 2019-20 season.

The full details are at the NHL’s website in this PDF file.

The NHL’s plan will be to have a four-round playoff for the Stanley Cup pending any further restrictions and changes with the pandemic. I think the round robin games will mostly help those top four teams be in some kind of game shape when the Qualifying Round teams face off against them. There are still plenty of details to figure out, but the format is now in place. Again, this confirms that the Devils are done on the ice until next season.

As for the draft lottery, which is way more of interest to me as a New Jersey Devils fan, I am not sure how to feel about it. The format is complex but it is necessary to ensure a team in the Qualifying Round (an appropriate term for this “round”) does not decide to throw a best-of-five series in the hopes of getting a high pick in this year’s draft. The cynic in me kind of wants all three draws on June 26 to go to three of the seven non-resuming teams so there is no second phase of the lottery. It would be a buzzkill to know the Devils are getting bumped down and we would not know by whom until later in the Summer or the Fall. It already is a buzzkill to know that the NHL Draft is now likely going to happen after the Playoffs due to this approach. But that may be just me since I have been thinking about prospects since March. There is not going to be a whole lot to cheer for from a Devils-perspective for months. I’ll watch it because, hey, it’s hockey. Alas, it will not be Devils hockey.

There are still a lot of issues to be resolved. Perhaps this will be disseminated later this evening, but here are some issues that immediately come to mind. Bettman did not speak to whether drafted players whose rights are ending on June 1 need to still be signed by then or not. Bettman did not speak to whether contracts set to expire on July 1 will be pushed back or not; although I would think they would have to be. Bettman did not speak to roster rules; such as whether teams can call up players for injured players or use players they have in their system, especially those signed recently. The most relevant to the Devils would be draft pick compensation or possible re-negotiation of those terms, which Bettman did not speak to either. This is not a knock on Bettman; I understand those are details in the bigger picture. The announcement was for more significant events such as the playoffs, the play-in round, and the draft lottery (or lotteries).

At least we have one day to look forward to: June 26. I hope the Devils win one of those three draws. And I hope by then we will have some clarity as to the state of their other two potential first rounders from Arizona and Vancouver, respectively. It would really stink if Vancouver fails to Minnesota so that pick moves to 2021 and Arizona wins a lottery draw so that first rounder moves to 2021. (Of course, if Arizona gets into the playoffs then that pick is lower.) No disrespect intended to the 2021 NHL Draft class, but a pick this year is a lot more valuable than a pick next year.

In the interim, the Devils have their own work to do as I wrote a couple of days ago. They still need to settle on a GM. They still need to hire a head coach. They still need to determine what direction they will go in for the draft and start determining what they want to do with the roster for 2020-21. Even if the 2020-21 season eventually becomes just a 2021 season; they can begin to prepare now if they have not done so already.

What do you think of the NHL’s Return to Play format now that it was officially announced? What do you think of the NHL Draft Lottery format? What other details and questions do you have that the NHL needs to resolve? Please leave your thoughts about today’s announcement (and any updates) in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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