Bettman announces NHL plan; Chicago a candidate to host playoff games
The Blackhawks will be part of the Stanley Cup playoffs when and if the NHL season resumes.
Will they get home-ice advantage? That part has yet to be determined.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday announced the plan to restart the season after the long pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NHL is the first major sports league in the U.S. to announce a plan to resume. The 24-team playoff already was agreed upon with the players union, so that part was no surprise.
The Blackhawks will be the No. 12 seed in the West and face No. 5 Edmonton in a best-of-five, first-round series. This news ends a two-year playoff drought for the Blackhawks. They last played a game on March 11, defeating San Jose 6-2 at the United Center.
While teams No. 5 through 12 in each conference play a first-round series, the top four teams will play a round-robin to determine the top four playoff seeds.
Bettman announced there will be two hub cities where the playoff games will take place. He also announced 10 candidates to be the hub cities, which will be determined at a later date.
Besides Chicago, the other hub-city candidates are Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
Chicago might have an advantage, with likely more hotels within a short distance of the arena than any other city on the list besides Las Vegas.
"The reason there are so many cities still in contention is we didn't want to be in a situation with things in the world moving so quickly, changing from day to day, we didn't want to get locked in," Bettman said on NBCSN. "Because we don't want to go to a place where there's a lot of COVID-19. We don't want to go to a place where we can't get testing we need, and there's going to be extensive testing."
Bettman did say he thinks it's unlikely a Canadian city will be chosen as a hub city, because there is currently a 14-day quarantine required for travelers, but everything is still being discussed.
"We're going to have to take our time; we're probably three weeks or more away from having to make a decision," Bettman said. "We didn't want to be locked into a place and something was going on in that place that might cause us to reconsider. Having options we think will make us safer and better in the long run."
Bettman did not announce any specific dates for the resumption of play, other than the return to formal training camp will begin no earlier than July 1. The length of those camps also have not been determined. NHL players association executive director Donald Fehr estimated players would need around three weeks of training camp.
Bettman said the regular season is effectively over and the seven teams at the bottom of the standings are done playing.
The top four seeds in the East are Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. The first-round series in the East are No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. Montreal; No. 6 Carolina vs. New York Rangers; No. 7 New York Islanders vs. Florida and No. 8 Toronto vs. Columbus.
The West top seeds are St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas. The other first-round series are No. 6 Nashville vs. Arizona; No. 7 Vancouver vs. Minnesota; and No. 8 Calgary vs. Winnipeg.
The four first-round winners in each conference will play one of the top four seeds. Bettman said the length of second-round series and conference semifinals are to be determined.
He expects a best-of-seven conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals to take place in a hub city. But he didn't rule out playing in the cities of the participating teams or even playing with fans in the arena, if circumstances dictate that it is safe to do so.
"We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel," Bettman said. "We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know it is appropriate and prudent and are approved to do so.
"Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect. But we believe we have constructed an overall plan than includes all teams that, as a practical matter, might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused. This plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL."