Back On The Ice: NHL Announces Return

By Andrew Bell

After coming together, the NHL has a plan in place for a return-to-play, 24-team playoff format for the 2019-20 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman made the official announcement this afternoon.

The NHL Players Association voted in favor of the 24-team tournament last week. The group consisted of 31 player representatives, and the when and where of the postseason is still to be determined.

The list of hub cities to play in with no fans includes Las Vegas, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.  According to the commissioner, there will only be two cities played in.

“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff, and arena personnel,” said Bettman in his announcement. “We will not set dates, choose sites, or begin to play until we know it is appropriate and prudent, and approved to do so. As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day, particularly for NHL fans. Since March 12, we have been hopeful and optimistic that by developing all options and alternatives, we would get to this point.”

The remainder of the regular season has been wiped out, and the top-four seeds in both the Western and Eastern Conferences will not have to participate in a play-in series.

Rather, the top four seeds will play a round-robin format, awaiting the 5-12 seeds, who have to battle it out to take on the top four in a best-of-five play-in round.

The Yotes’, who were in 11th place and four points out of a playoff spot when the regular season was postponed, will have new life with the 24-team outlook.

They will take on the Nashville Predators, who were the eighth-seed in the Western Conference, in a best-of-five play-in series. If they advance past that, there hasn’t been any decision on whether the following matchups with the top four seeds would be a best-of-five, or best-of-seven series in the first round.

NHL facilities haven’t reopened, and Bettman said they wouldn’t have training camp until July. Players from the Coyotes shared their opinions on the timeline of what it will take to get back to playing shape over the last couple of months.

“I can only speak for myself and I don’t know how other guys would feel but with a week of practice and intra-squad games…I think it would be about a week to two weeks depending on how long this goes,” said Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper in April. “Training camp isn’t much longer than that and we are playing preseason games three days into training camp now.”

Forward Conor Garland also added in his timeline as well.

“I’m trying to stay relatively in shape, but you can’t replace game shape. We are all going to need a few weeks or close to a month to get ready. You got to stay somewhat ready,” Garland said about a month ago. “It’s not great to be away from the game for months with no practices or being on the ice but you have to try and fill it in one way or another.”

The Coyotes were 1-1 in the regular season against the Preds, with both teams winning their matchups on home ice.

And for one last note, the NHL Draft is another area that is affected. The seven teams who won’t compete in the postseason will be entered in the lottery draft.

Comprehensive COVID-19 testing will be regulated wherever the playing sites may be, and the return of hockey is not yet complete. That all depends on the health and government regulations that will take place over the next month.

But for now, the return-to-play plan is a step forward for the Coyotes and the NHL in trying to complete the season and have a Stanley Cup Champion.