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Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Bettman talks NHL return to play, hub cities, and draft lottery

This afternoon, NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, spoke about the NHL’s return to play strategy and what the league will look like if it can resume the season later this summer. While there are undoubtedly plenty of questions that will need to be answered in due time, Bettman spoke a little bit about what’s to come for the NHL as the league pushes towards getting back on the ice.

Over the weekend, the NHLPA voted to approve the 24-team format proposed by the Return to Play committee, which involves the top four teams in each conference playing a mini-tournament for seeding, while the other 16 would face off in best-of-five series to set the field for the playoff tournament. Bettman’s announcement will be the first by any of the major pro sports leagues in North America, and while it was expected that Bettman would confirm the widely reported 24-team playoff format (he did), many were hoping for clarity on a range of other topics as well. Earlier today, we learned that teams that lose their play-in round would be included in the draft lottery, but what other revelations were to be made? I was excited to find out.

THE PLAYOFFS

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To start, Bettman confirmed that the league will be going with a 24-team playoff format based on points percentage as of March 11th when the league shut down. He also confirmed that there will be 12 teams playing out of two hub cities, though he didn’t confirm where they will be quite yet he did say that a decision should be made within the coming weeks. What we did get, though, was a list of cities that are in the running to be a playoff hub, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver. Most interestingly, it was also revealed that each team will only be able to bring 50 total representatives, meaning that every team will be running with a skeleton crew as opposed to what they’re used to. What does that mean for player families? We’ll need to get some clarity on that, but it was certainly notable that organizations will not be able to send their entire staff to the hub cities as the playoffs roll out.

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In the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues (94 points), Colorado Avalanche (92 points), Vegas Golden Knights (86 points) and Dallas Stars (82 points) will each have a bye, but will compete in a round-robin style mini-tournament to determine their overall seeding. As for the play-in rounds, the Edmonton Oilers (83 points) will go up against the Chicago Blackhawks (72 points), the Nashville Predators (78 points) will battle the Arizona Coyotes (74 points), the Vancouver Canucks (78 points) take on the Minnesota Wild (77 points), and the Calgary Flames (79 points) have a date with the Winnipeg Jets (80 points). The play-in round will be a best-of-five series with normal playoff-style overtime whereas the top four teams will compete using the regular season rules. Why? I dunno, but that’s what’s going to happen and I’m excited about it.

THE DRAFT LOTTERY

Alright, so the way the draft lottery is going to work was all kinds of complicated and I’m not nearly smart enough to try and figure it out, so I went on the hunt to find some tweets that can accurately explain it properly.

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As always, Bob McKenzie is here for us:

Still confused? Me too. Thankfully, the NHL put out the procedure for this year’s lottery shortly after Bettman was finished speaking:

The draft lottery will determine the first 15 picks in the 2020 NHL Draft based on 3-6 drawings over one or two phases. It will include the seven teams that did not qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, plus eight teams that lose in the Qualifying Round.

The First Phase of the draft lottery will be held June 26, prior to the Qualifying Round. It will consist of three drawings and include the seven teams that did not qualify for the postseason and eight placeholder positions.

The lottery odds for the seven non-playoff teams were determined by their point percentage during the 2019-20 regular season, which was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and ended Tuesday with the Return to Play Plan announcement.

The eight potential losing teams from the Qualifying Round will be represented in the First Phase of the draft lottery as unassigned picks.

The first drawing of the First Phase will set the team selecting No. 1 in the draft, the second drawing will set the team selecting No. 2, and the third drawing will set the team selecting No. 3.

If a team not in the bottom seven wins any of the first three drawings, a Second Phase will be conducted among the eight teams eliminated in the Qualifying Round. That would take place between the end of the Qualifying Round and the first round of the playoffs.

Clear as mud, right? In the end, I’m just hoping that the Oilers are able to demolish Chicago in their play-in round so that we don’t even have to worry about it.