Inching closer for NHL return to play

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Just when it never seemed like hockey would find its way back to the sports world, here we are.

The NHL and its players’ association agreed to completing this season with a 24-team, return-to-play format that will eventually end with a team hoisting the Stanley Cup. There are 10 hub cities up for discussion, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.

While unpopular, the NHL has taken a slow-and-steady approach to resume the 2019-20 season; one could say it followed in line with the NBA. While the NBA hasn’t determined how to finish the remaining portion of its season, the NHL is moving forward with providing teams with as many punchers’ chances as possible.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Tuesday that the top four teams in each conference will play round-robin games to determine seeding. The other eight teams in each conference will play a best-of-5 first-round series to determine who moves on. The conference quarterfinal and semifinal rounds will either be best-of-5 or best-of-7.

Both conferences will have their own hub city, and Bettman said that it’s not necessary that one will be based in the West and one in the East. Formal training camps to get back into game shape will start no earlier than July 1, per Bettman.

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This wasn’t going to make everyone happy, but it’s the best the NHL could do. All teams are in one city, travel is eliminated, and players are fully healthy. This works for a team like the Vegas Golden Knights, who were going to be without Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty for the final weeks of the regular season. Everyone on Vegas is healthy in that regard, including Alex Tuch.

Not all teams are on board, such as the Carolina Hurricanes. At the time of the season’s pause, the Hurricanes were the first wild card in the Eastern Conference. Going from guaranteed lock to making the field of 16 to having to play a play-in series isn’t ideal, such as PA representative Jordan Martinook highlighted to Sportsnet this weekend.

Teams are getting second chances, as well. Once 10 points out of a playoff spot, the Montreal Canadiens will be the 12-seed in the Eastern Conference. Imagine if Montreal beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a five-game series. Not only are the red-hot Penguins knocked out, but a team with the lowest points percentage of the 24-team format is playing for the Stanley Cup. 

The same goes for the Chicago Blackhawks, who could be a tough out against the Edmonton Oilers in a five-game series. Patrick Kane vs. Connor McDavid in this line of work is going to be the ultimate chef’s kiss.

It’s mass hysteria that wishes we had fans to witness this. 

Players will soon be allowed to skate in groups of six at a time with the hope to eventually graduate to full-team scrimmages. When that takes place is unknown, but the fact the NHL is going stride-for-stride with the NBA appears to have its advantage. 

Two months ago, when the sports world stopped, it didn’t seem like we’d come this far in such a short amount of time. Now, hope is on the horizon with the Stanley Cup to be awarded somewhere to some team at some point.

At the end of the day, this is the best-case scenario for getting hockey back on track. While teams may not be on board for this, it will provide excitement for fans to watch these games, and the matchups will be entertaining all the way through to the Stanley Cup Final. 

About the Author
Danny Webster

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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