MINNEAPOLIS - It appears the NHL and its players association are one step closer to getting back on the ice and ultimately finding finality to the 2019-20 season.
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday afternoon that the NHL regular season is effectively over, and the league is phasing into a posteason plan. It will feature a 24-team tournament, with teams from each conference playing in one select and secure hub. The seven teams to not make the playoffs will be placed into the NHL Draft lottery.
The regular season is effectively over after the NHL suspended play on March 12 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
For the Minnesota Wild, it means they are the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference and they will face the No. 7-seeded Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-five series. The Wild was 7-3 in its past 10 games and one point out of the second Wild Card spot when the NHL suspended play.
"I’m so glad that we’re in the mix and we have an opportunity," Wild GM Bill Guerin told reporters on Zoom Tuesday.
"The health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff in our communities are paramount. While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so," Bettman said. "Our fans are telling us in overwhelming numbers that they want us to complete the season if at all possible. Our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion. Although we are anxious to get back on the ice, we will not do anything until we are assured by the medical professionals and the relevant government authorities that it is safe and prudent to do so."
The top four teams in both conferences will play each other in round robin for seeding purposes, and games would be played with regular season overtime rules. After the play-in round, remaining match-ups would be seven-game series to eventually determine a Stanley Cup champion.
"It will enable the best playoffs in all of sports to honor our history and produce a champion worthy of claiming the most treasured trophy in all of sports," Bettman said.
Bettman listed up to 10 cities that could be options for hubs when play resumes. The include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angelese, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver. Teams will be quarantined in hotels, and travel directly from their hotel to the hub site. There will be one hub site for each conference. Teams will have a maximum of 50 personnel allowed to travel to hub sites.Bettman said the NHL will begin to open practice facilities for teams for small-group, voluntary workouts both on and off the ice in early June. A formal training camp for players before NHL play resumes would start no earlier than July 1.
"There are always going to be hurdles with something like this. We really never know what’s going to change tomorrow, but I think today was a great step. It gives us hope that this could actually happen," Guerin said.