NHL Releases “Return To Play” Plan; Lines Up Wild vs Canucks in Qualifying Round

Minnesota Wild hockey is back, baby, and things are looking good for a potential playoff run, as mentioned earlier today. NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman announced the league’s Return to Play Plan for the 2019-2020 season.

While some of the details have been speculated on and known about for the past week (24-teams, hub cities, and tournament format), there have still been some details kept in the dark (Hub city finalists and Draft conduct) that have not been announced or finalized.

But the cat is out of the bag now and we know what to expect moving forward with the NHL.

Return to Play Plan:

Bettman began his announcement by stating that the health and safety of all players, staff, and community are paramount to the league. While fans and players alike are itching to have hockey back, the league is taking guidance from both civil and medical authorities to ensure the safest possible return with the goal of ensuring playoff competition, tradition, and integrity.

Because it was announced previously, we knew there would be 24-clubs in contention for the Stanley Cup based (12 from each conference) based on the final points percentage from the now concluded 2019-2020 NHL season.

That lined the Minnesota Wild against the Vancouver Canucks, in a best-of-five series, “qualifying round”, to start the tournament. We also knew about the utilization of two hub cities (one for each conference) in which teams will be assigned and secure hotels, the arena, practice facilities, and in-market transportation.

With COVID-19 issues evolving rapidly and each city having different restrictions and regulations, the cities have not been finalized. But the list has been narrowed down to 12 options:

  •   Chicago, IL
  •  Columbus, OH
  •  Dallas, TX
  •  Edmonton, AL
  •  Las Vegas, NV
  •  Los Angeles, CA
  •  St. Paul, MN
  •   Pittsburgh, PA
  •  Toronto, ON
  •  Vancouver, BC

Teams will be allowed 50 personnel to travel to the hub city with fewer being allowed at league events, to ensure maximum safety.

Restart Phases

Phase 2, which is in early June, will allow clubs to return to home facilities for voluntary and small-group (up to six players) on- and off-ice training.

Phase 3 implements a formal training camp that begins no later than July 1st.

Phase 4, to reiterate past announcements, is when the top four teams in each conference will play in a Round Robin with each other with regular season overtime rules while the remaining qualifying teams playing in the best-of-five series to advance to the first round.

After the Round Robins and Qualifying Rounds, the teams will be seeded into a classic NHL playoff bracket with each round being determined by seeding.

The league is still discussing whether to implement a best-of-five or the traditional best-of seven for the first and second rounds, but they made certain to maintain the best-of-seven for the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup.

Where does that leave the draft?

There are two possible phases for the draft with 15 clubs eligible (seven not resuming play and eight who are eliminated in the qualifying round) to win the first three overall selections.

Phase 1 will occur before the Qualifying Round with draws for the picks. If a draw is won by a non-resuming club (or to whomever it was traded to), it receives that pick. There will be no Phase 2 if all three draws are won by non-resuming clubs.

Phase 2 gets a bit more interesting. This will occur between the Qualifying Rounds and the First Round of the playoffs. Any Phase 1 draw not won by a non-resuming club will be conducted among clubs eliminated in the Qualifying Round.

Once all three picks are determined, the remaining picks will be slotted among the clubs in reverse order of their season points percentage with the non-resuming clubs still maintaining better odds than resuming teams. Much like how the NBA conducts their draft.

What this means for the Wild.

The Wild are in decent shape to compete for the first round of the playoffs, especially if St. Paul is selected as a hub city. 

Pairing up against the Canucks, the Wild have a favorable matchup having gone 2-1 against them this season and 5-2 in their last seven competitions, including interim head coach Dean Evason’s first NHL win.

The team was also scorching hot prior to the shutdown. Having won eight of eleven, the hope is they can utilize the last two months of down time to maintain that focus and energy needed for a deep run alongside allowing the aging core a chance to regain health and rest.

While we expect the primary roster to remain intact, this format could allow for some Iowa Wild stars to join the fold and contribute. This especially includes the AHL’s Goalie of the Year in Kaapo Kahkonen, who could split time with Alex Stalock if Devan Dubnyk is not fully recovered, and Sam Anas and Brennan Menell.

While the playoffs have not been kind to the Wild this past decade, this format could be just what the team needs to get over the hump and go the farthest they’ve been since 2003.

You can see all of Bettman’s announcement video here:

Jack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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