NHL begins delayed trek to the Stanley Cup
The NHL released this photo of the interior of Edmonton's Rogers Place, where the Western Conference games will take place, to show what the arena will look like without fans.
On Saturday, August 1, 24 teams will begin what the National Hockey League hopes will be a journey that will end with the Stanley Cup being awarded no later than Oct. 4.
Of course the 2019-20 season was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic on March 12, and the NHL ultimately decided that the regular season would end at that point and that 24 teams – the 16 already in playoff positions and the additional top eight that were in contention for a playoff spot – would continue the season in a modified playoff format.
All games will be played in Toronto and Edmonton. Toronto will host the Eastern Conference games at the Scotiabank Centre and the Western Conference action will take place at Edmonton's Rogers Place. The Stanley Cup Final is scheduled for Rogers Place Sept. 22-Oct. 4.
All players and team personnel will remain in a "bubble" of each of the hubs in Toronto and Edmonton and will be tested for Covid-19. There will be protocols and procedures for those who test positive. Of course, there will be no fans in the stands.
The NHL released a rendering of what the inside of Rogers Place will look during the games with no fans. The sections of seats will be covered and it appears that advertising could be on the coverings. The areas behind and to either side of the players benches will resemble a stage. Over that will be several screens with images of the logos of the two competing teams and of their key players.
There will also be signs indicating support for social justice, and each team will be given the opportunity to create their own messages and logos to that end. Early games will also feature tributes to front-line workers in the fight against Covid-19 and support for equality.
There will be a round-robin and a qualifying round before the first round begins.
The top four teams in each conference – the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference, and the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference – will play in the round-robin for seeding in the first round. The regular-season overtime rules will be in effect.
The next eight teams in each conference will play in the qualifying round. That will feature four best-of-five series in each conference in which the playoff overtime rules will be used.
These are the matchups (seed in parentheses):
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
The winners from the qualifying round play the top four seeds in the first round. Individual First Round series matchups remain to be determined.
And because of the two-tiered process of the draft lottery (the Red Wings will pick fourth, despite having the league's worst record), the eight losing teams in the qualifying round will go into Phase 2 of the lottery on Aug. 10, and one of those teams will end up with the top overall pick of the NHL draft, which is scheduled for Oct. 9-10.
The first round, which begins best-of-seven series, is scheduled to begin on Aug. 11, the second round Aug. 25, and the conference finals Sept. 8.
And If things go as planned, there won't be much of a break before the start of the 2020-21 season.
The free agent period is scheduled to begin in mid-October, training camps would begin on Nov. 17, and the regular season is scheduled to start on Dec. 1.
All listed dates are tentative.