No Pepsi Center games, but Avs will have a top-four seed
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday revealed the league’s Return to Play plan with a 24-team tournament to determine the 2019-20 Stanley Cup champion.
Unfortunately for the Avalanche, the team played its final Pepsi Center game on March 11, the day before the league hit the pause button because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Denver is not among the 10 cities being considered for two hub sites where the qualifying rounds and round-robin seeding will be held, one city for the West and one for the Eastern Conference; the sites are Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
Bettman said the regular season is over; the standings, based on points percentage on March 12, determined the 24 teams eligible for the tournament.
The Avalanche were two points behind St. Louis for first place in the West and Central Division, and are guaranteed one of the top four seeds in the conference, along with St. Louis, Dallas and Vegas. They will play each other once to decide the top four seeds for the first round. These games will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules.
The other 16 teams, eight from each conference, will play qualifying rounds, best-of-five series with playoff overtime rules, with the winners advancing to play the top seeds in the first round.
The West qualifying series: Edmonton vs. Chicago; Nashville vs. Arizona; Vancouver vs. Minnesota; and Calgary vs. Winnipeg.
Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia will take part in round-robin play to decide the top four seeds in the East. The qualifying rounds: Pittsburgh vs. Montreal; Carolina vs. the New York Rangers; the New York Islanders vs. Florida; and Toronto vs. Columbus.
The seven teams whose seasons have ended: Anaheim, Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Ottawa and San Jose. They will participate in the NHL draft lottery, the first phase June 26.
"We anticipate playing without fans, but if at some point things change and we could, we would reevaluate," Bettman said. "Everything we have been doing over the past 10-12 weeks was having to do with preparing for whatever might be in front of us. Having alternatives, having optionality, and making sure we were flexible enough to adapt to whatever was going on.”
"I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount," Bettman said. "While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so.
"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."
No specific dates have been set, but players could start returning to their home cities in June and undergo voluntary on- and off-ice activities in groups of six; coaches won’t be allowed on the ice.
Formal training camps could start in July. Bettman said it’s possible the league could start playing games by the end of July or early August and play through September, which obviously would delay the start of the 2021-22 season.
Bettman said the decision on the hub cities and when the playoffs will begin will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations. A comprehensive system for testing will be in place in each hub city. Each team will be permitted to travel with a maximum of 50 personnel, including players, coaches and staff, to its hub city.
The format for the playoffs was determined in meetings of the Return to Play Committee, which included executives from the NHL and NHL Players' Association.
After the round-robins and qualifying rounds, the conference-based playoffs will continue in the two hub cities. Each of the winners of the qualifying round will advance to face one of the round-robin teams in the first round. The committee hasn’t decided whether the first-round series will be set through seeding or by bracket.
The committee also has yet to decide the length of the first- and second-round series, and whether the second-round series will be determined through seeding or by bracket.
The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-7 series. The sites for those games have yet to be determined.
"Obviously, we anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall," Bettman said. "At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances and the needs of the players.
"We believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that, as a practical matter, might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused. And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL."