The NHL has announced its 2019-20 regular season has ended and it plans to play the Stanley Cup play-offs in two cities which have yet to be chosen.
The season was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, with the league planning for the top 12 qualifying teams from the Eastern and Western conferences to progress to the post-season based on their points percentage on that date.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the return-to-play plan was determined in response to fan demand and with consideration for the safety of players.
The @NHL has released a Return to Play Plan for the 2019-20 season.
◾ 24 teams to compete for #StanleyCup
◾ 2 hub cities will host games
◾ Protocol for return to training
◾ Draft Lottery
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
“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 in a video statement.
“Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible. And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.”
Each conference’s top four teams by points percentage will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine their seeding, with the remaining 16 teams seeded by conference in best-of-five series.
— NHL (@NHL) May 26, 2020
Each conference will have one city – from a shortlist of Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St Paul, Toronto and Vancouver – act as host during the play-offs.
The league said each team will be allowed a limited number of personnel travelling to their hub city, where there will be a comprehensive system for virus testing in place.
The plan was devised by five current players as well as executives from the league and the NHL Players’ Association.
The seven teams who did not make the post-season will enter the NHL Draft lottery ahead of the 2020-21 season.
The league is at phase one of its plan, which involves teams self-isolating as much as possible. The NHL hopes to eventually move to phase four, in which teams would travel to their hub cities and play resume, potentially in the summer.