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The NHL's Plan to Return

Written by Noah Foster, Logan Rosengard, and Raffi Sarrafian


In case you missed the news from the NHL on Tuesday, Gary Bettman held a video conference outlining the return-to-play plan moving forward for the NHL. We‘ve got information here on the format of the playoffs, the hub cities situation, and what will happen with the draft lottery.

What will the playoffs look like?

As we have been speculating for weeks, the playoffs will be a 24-team format: 12 teams from the East and 12 from the West. The seven teams out of the playoffs are the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils. Sorry fans of those teams, there's always next year.

Moving on to the actual playoffs. In each conference, the top four teams (based on regular-season standings) will play a round-robin style mini-tournament to determine their seeding 1-4. The other eight teams will face off in ¨play-in¨ matchups for the right to play a top four team in the first round of the playoffs. These are not part of the playoffs, rather, they are an entry to the playoffs. Below are the top four teams and the qualifying matchups for each conference.


Top Four Teams: Top Four Teams:

Boston Bruins St. Louis Blues

Washington Capitals Colorado Avalanche

Tampa Bay Lightning Dallas Stars

Philadelphia Flyers Vegas Golden Knights

Qualifying Matchups: Qualifying Matchups:

5 Pittsburgh vs 12 Montreal 5 Edmonton vs 12 Chicago

6 Carolina vs 11 NY Rangers 6 Nashville vs 11 Arizona

7 NY Islanders vs 10 Florida 7 Vancouver vs 10 Minnesota

8 Toronto vs 9 Columbus 8 Calgary vs 9 Winnipeg

A visual of what the 2020 NHL playoffs will look like:

(Photo: Action Rush)

The round-robin games will be played with regular season overtime rules (meaning a five minute overtime followed by a shootout if no one scores), and ties will be broken with regular-season point percentage. The qualifying matchups will be played in a best-of-5 series. The first round of the playoffs will either be a best-of-5 or a best-of-7. The NHL has yet to decide. However, Bettman said that the conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals will be best-of-7 series. So those thrilling, nail-biting, anxiety-inducing game 7's will be in play this year.

There will certainly be more in-depth analysis of these playoff matchups as they draw closer, but for now, the two matchups I would keep an eye on would be the Hurricanes vs Rangers series and the Blackhawks vs Oilers series.

Where will they be played?

Gary Bettman, during his announcement, highlighted 10 possible locations as the NHL’s hub cities. He continuously mentioned there would only be 2 hub cities, so expect one for the eastern conference teams, and one for the western conference teams. Bettman also said that the 2 cities will be announced at a further date. Here are the 10 cities Bettman highlighted as potential hub cities:

Chicago, IL

Columbus, OH

Dallas, TX

Edmonton, AB

Las Vegas, NV

Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Pittsburgh, PA

Toronto, ON

Vancouver, BC

It is very likely Las Vegas, NV is one of the hub cities and has been rumored multiple times as the front runner by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, and SportsNet’s, Elliotte Friedman. There is also speculation the second hub city could be a Canadian city, as it would be cheaper to have a hub in Canada than in the United States. If there is one in Canada, expect Toronto or Edmonton to be the 2 front runners to host one of the hubs, but if the NHL decides to have both hubs in the United States, expect Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul to be the top cities behind Las Vegas. With Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing there would have to be a 14 day quarantine period for anyone traveling from the United States into Canada and vise versa, expect the NHL to learn more towards 2 United States cities over 1 US, and 1 Canadian city.

What about the draft lottery?

This year's draft lottery will look a little different than most, as most are with the league’s proposal. There will still be 15 teams up for the lottery picks, but only three will “win” the draw. The only picks up for grabs in the lottery are the top three picks. The next 12 will be decided depending on a few things. The six teams we know that are in contention for this are the Sabres, the Devils, the Ducks, the Kings, the Senators and the Red Wings. Technically the San Jose Sharks are in there too, but their first round pick belongs to the Senators. The next 8 teams in, designated by alphabetical signs A-through-H are going to be those who fail to win their qualifying round matchup.


Phase 1 of the draft happens on June 26. Per usual, the event will be televised. On this date we will find out who the top two picks belong to, and whether or not we will need a second phase to the lottery. On this night, if the first three picks go to any of the bottom seven teams in the league, there is no need for a second phase to the draft lottery and the next 12 will be handed out based on the teams point percentage in inverse order. If a top three pick goes to one of the alpha-designated teams, there will need to be a second phase. There isn’t a set date for this, but it will happen after the qualifying round, but before the next round of the playoffs.

In the event of a second phase to the draft, there are a few outcomes for what would happen. If all three of the picks go to a team not in the bottom seven, then picks four through ten will be handed to the bottom seven in point percentage inverse order. If only one or two picks from the top three are won by a non-bottom seven team, a lottery to decide which of the alpha-designated teams gets which letter will decide the winners of those picks, and the remaining bottom seven get handed picks in inverse order.

Yes, everyone outside of the league offices are confused, including us here at Hot Shots. But as things get clearer on the day of the phase 1 draft, confusion should be minimal.

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