UPDATE, 7 p.m. ET: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed today the rumors that had already been circulating.  The NHL league is going to see a 24-game playoff on it’s return to ice, although when and where still remain undetermined – or if health officials will allow the action to resume.   The only thing that is known is that the draft lottery will take place, scheduled to be held on June 26.

NHL Playoff Plan

Leading up to the playoffs, the top four teams in each conference will receive a bye.  After that, the bye-in series will be broken down as follows:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia will receive byes.

No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Montreal

No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 11 New York Rangers

No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida

No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus

WESTERN CONFERENCE

St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas will receive byes.

No. 5 Edmonton vs. No. 12 Chicago

No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona

No. 7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota

No. 8 Calgary vs. No. 9 Winnipeg

Hopefully, things will come together as planned, with no further interruptions.  Each day seems to bring more good news, and the sports world might be able to return to normal before too much longer.

With soccer underway in Europe, thanks to Germany’s Bundesliga, and other leagues around the world starting to resume their seasons, things are finally starting to return to normal – even if it’s going to take a while to figure out what normal is.  However, the image on the horizon is starting to come into focus, and that’s what matters.

With the coronavirus pandemic beginning to be brought under control, the NHL is now getting in line behind the NBA and MLB, which have already announced their tentative plans for a restart of sports action.

NHL And NHLPA Plan Return To Ice

Monday, Memorial Day, will be a day to remember for hockey fans, as well.  It’s the day that the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) released their joint plan for a return to the ice, a small step closer to the puck action that was halted during the run for the Stanley Cup this past March.  The two sides put each other in check to reach a mutual agreement, which they published in a 22-page document today that outlines Phase 2 of the rebuilding process.

Above everything else, the health of players and league personnel comes first as the league begins to reopen training facilities, and will do everything feasible to ensure everyone is protected.  Their plan, they feel, is quite extensive in offering safeguards, but the NHL and the NHLPA realize that, “while very comprehensive, cannot mitigate all risk” associated with the coronavirus.

The way the season will most likely play out will include a playoff format involving 24 teams, with league and player representatives continuing to work on a revised plan for the Stanley Cup playoffs.  In today’s document, titled Phased Return to Sport Protocol, practices will be allowed to get going, but only with a maximum of six players in the facility, along with certain club personnel, at any one time.  All of these individuals will have to be tested for COVID-19 48 hours prior to their visit and, of course, the test will have to be negative.

More steps have to be taken before the league can get going again.  Anyone related to pro hockey that is expected to attend the practices will have to sit through a mandatory, but remote, educational class as part of the league’s relaunch.  Players will also have to submit themselves to a medical checkup to test for “any co-morbidities that may carry increased risk with COVID-19 infection” in order for the NHL to be allowed a return to the ice.

Additionally, mandatory two-week quarantines may be implemented if proper testing isn’t available, and everyone planning on entering any club facility will have to have his or her temperature taken upon entry.

All In The Name Of Safety

The memo that was published today made it across the desks of the NHL deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, VP and Deputy General Counsel Julie Grand and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, all of whom are apparently on board.  When they finally signed their names to the letter, it included caveats for players who may have traveled overseas during the shutdown period, stating that these may be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine period, regardless of whether or not they have shown symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.

The letter added, “Even if not imposed by the local health authorities, such individuals returning to the Club’s home city by public transportation, including commercial air or rail travel must serve a 14-day self-quarantine period post-travel before engaging in training activities at their club’s facility.  In addition, Club Medical personnel may impose a 14-day quarantine on Players and permitted Personnel returning to the Club’s home city from a high-risk environment, even if they are not traveling via public transportation.”

What’s Next For NHL’s Ice Return

As long as all of the clubs, which should have received the memo by now, can adhere to the new guidelines, the NHL is ready to move forward with a return to the ice.  This means that, more than likely, practices could be held starting sometime early next month.  Next, the final phase would follow, which would include a return to live games.  That phase, however, does not yet have a projected date.