With a season completely dismantled on March 12 due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL is considering a plan that would bring the Stanley Cup Playoffs to NBC and the NBC Sports Network in late July and early August to replace the hole the now-canceled summer Olympics have left.
During a 15-minute conference call, league commissioner Gary Bettman laid out a four-phase plan and acknowledged they are currently in Phase 1. Bettman hopes to reopen training camps in Phase 3 no earlier than the first half of July.
Under the new plan, 24 of the league’s 31 teams would resume play to compete for the Stanley Cup.
After a comprehensive testing system is put in place, the Playoffs would be assigned to a “hub city” with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities and in-market transportation for players, coaches and essential staff. Each team would be limited to 50 personnel in the hub city, with limited support staff permitted in event areas.
The league has reportedly narrowed the choices for the two hub cities to a list that includes: Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Edmonton, Canada; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; St. Paul, Minn.; Pittsburgh; Toronto and Vancouver.
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Final determination will be based on Covid-19 testing and government regulations. These games will be “fanless” and played in a (mostly) empty stadium.
Phase 4 participating clubs would report to their respective hub cities—one for the Western Conference and one for the Eastern Conference—and play would resume.
“I am certain that, depending on which team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer would be done differently,” Bettman said. “But we believe that we have constructed a plan that includes all teams that, as a practical matter, might have qualified for the playoffs when the season was paused.”
However, while the return-to-play plan may have been formalized, it is not necessarily finalized. Much of what Bettman said in the 15-minute announcement will only happen once the circumstances of the pandemic are evaluated and the league is given the go-ahead from experts.
“Although we are anxious to get back on the ice, we will not do anything until we are assured by medical officials and the relevant government authorities that it is safe and prudent to do so,” Bettman said.
Bettman also emphasized that no matter what happens, a “worthy Stanley Cup champion” would emerge triumphant.