SPORTS — The NHL and NHLPA agreed on Monday, July 6, to a Return to Play Plan to resume competition and crown a Stanley Cup Champion. League officials and the player’s union agreed on an extension on their current Collective Bargaining Agreement that will last until 2026.
The competition will resume with an expanded playoff format that will feature 12 teams from each conference starting on August 1. A qualifying round will commence the tournament with the top four teams from each conference earning a bye for that stage.
The teams sitting out of the qualifying rounds will play in a round-robin tournament to decide the top four seeds for playoffs. Meanwhile, the other clubs will play in a best-of-five series to advance to the playoffs, which will be held in its traditional seven-game format.
The losing teams of the qualifying rounds would be eligible for the No. 1 overall pick for the NHL lottery.
Teams can bring a maximum of 31 players, including goalies. Teams can have as many as 30 skaters but an unlimited number of goalies. Also, teams can only bring 52 individuals which include players, coaches, owners and other personnel. Coronavirus testing will be conducted daily along with temperature checks and symptom screenings.
The Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers will play in the round-robin for the East. The St. Louis Blue, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars will compete in the round-robin for the West.
The qualifying rounds will proceed with the following matchups:
Eastern Conference: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets.
Western Conference: Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks vs. Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets.
Two host cities will house the Eastern and Western Conference in an isolated bubble. The Stanley Cup Finals and the conference finals will be held at one of the host cities. The hub cities have yet to be decided but multiple sources expect the Canadian cities of Toronto and Edmonton to be named the hub cities with Edmonton hosting the finals.
The Return to Play Plan has yet to be ratified by league officials and the NHLPA as they are ironing out the final details of the agreement, but a deal is expected to be done in the next 3-5 days. If approved, teams will be allowed to begin training camps starting on July 13.