NHL scraps 2019-20 regular season over coronavirus, will move forward with 24-team playoff format

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday that the 2019-20 regular season is officially over, citing the coronavirus, and the league will aim to move forward with the Stanley Cup playoffs in two hub cities that will be identified at a later date.

The top 12 teams in each conference will advance to the playoffs, and they will be ranked based on percentage points from the final standings as they stood on March 11 when the season was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. On the other hand, the remaining seven teams will enter the NHL Draft lottery.

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The top four teams in each conference ranked by points percentage -- Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West -- will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding.

The remaining 16 teams will be seeded by conference, setting up best-of-five series in the East of No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Montreal, No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida, and No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus.

In the West, it would be No. 5 Edmonton vs. No. 12 Chicago, No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona, No. 7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota, and No. 8 Calgary vs. No. 9 Winnipeg.

The seven teams looking forward to the NHL Draft lottery include: Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit.

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Clubs will be permitted to travel with a maximum of 50 team personnel to their hub city, and a limited number of people will be able to access the event level at each venue. A comprehensive system of testing will be in place in each hub city, which Bettman says is narrowed down to the following: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.

“One will be the site for the resuming Eastern Conference clubs, the other will play host to the resuming Western Conference clubs,” Bettman said. “Each will have secure arenas, practice facilities, hotels, and local transportations for our players, coaches, and essential staff.”

The league is currently in Phase 1 of its return-to-play plan, which consists of clubs self-isolating as much as possible. Bettman stated that in early June, the league expects to enter Phase 2, which means clubs can return to their individual practice facilities or voluntary small groups on-and-off ice training. Phase 3 of the plan will be the opening of formal training camps.

“The timing of our entry into Phase 3 again will be determined by guidance from medical and civil authorities,” Bettman said. “While we are anxious to open camps as soon as possible, we don’t envision doing so before the first half of July.”

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When appropriate, the NHL expects to move into Phase 4, which means participating teams will report to their respective hub cities, and play will resume. Bettman stated that they anticipate playing over the summer, and into the early fall.

“At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return-to-play will be determined by both developing circumstances, and the needs of our players,” Bettman said. “Again the final determination will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing availability, and government regulations.”

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