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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

NHL is Back, Baby… (hopefully)

A mere 75 days after the NHL paused the 2019/2020 season, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman outlined the National Hockey League’s return-to-play plan yesterday. Bettman didn’t give an exact date for a return because, “anybody who gives you a date is guessing,” he said.

However, he does have a plan and here is some information on the most pressing questions.

When will the NHL return?

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“Not earlier than the first half of July,” said Bettman.

Combine that with the NHLPA’s (and coaches’) request for a three-week training camp, then late July or early August is the earliest we will see the “play-in” round.

Bettman did leave the door open for an earlier start, as well as a worst-case scenario of pushing back the season even more.

“It is conceivable we are playing at the end of July. Maybe things open up quicker. If it (start date) has to slide more, then it will,” he said.

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Who will be a Hub City?

The NHL is down to 10 cities vying to be one of the two hub cities. The plan is to have one city host the Eastern Conference and one host the West.

Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton are the 10 cities.

Currently, the Canadian government has a 14-day mandatory quarantine action in place for all persons entering Canada.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league is in discussions with the government. “If we’re not able to resolve or solve this issue, I think it effectively eliminates our ability to come to a Canadian city as our of our hub cities,” he said.

This prompted Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, to write a letter to Justin Trudeau this morning.

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Will the Oilers play in Edmonton if they are a host city?

The NHL hasn’t made a final decision on this. Personally I think it is unnecessary to move host teams out of their city, regardless of which city is chosen. Without fans, there isn’t much home-ice advantage. All 12 teams will play on the same surface and will be in the same arena for the duration of the playoffs.

The host city players would have to stay in a hotel, which makes sense, and not in their own bed. But Daly admitted the league is looking at host teams playing in the other hub.

“We certainly see some merit in moving the club to a different market, so any perceived advantages are eliminated,” said Daly.

I think that would be a slight overreaction.

DRAFT LOTTERY RULES?

The NHL will have the draft lottery before the play-ins/playoffs, but won’t host the draft. This is the correct decision. The draft lottery will be held on June 26th.

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The draft lottery rules are similar, in one way, than previous seasons with 15 teams having a chance to select in the top three. However, eight teams involved in the play-in tournament will also be involved in the draft lottery and that is how it becomes complicated.

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Here is a quick summary. I checked this 10 times and I’m still not certain I’m correct, but here goes.

The “first” draft.

There are 15 teams in the draft lottery. The seven teams not playing will have these odds for the June 26th lottery.

Here are the current lottery odds for the first pick in the 2020 NHL draft:

Detroit Red Wings: 18.5%
Ottawa Senators: 13.5%
Ottawa Senators (via San Jose Sharks): 11.5%
Los Angeles Kings: 9.5%
Anaheim Ducks: 8.5%
New Jersey Devils: 7.5%
Buffalo Sabres: 6.5%

There will be three drawings for the top three picks. If it’s three of the non-playoff teams, then it is over and we move on. However, based on past draft lotteries, that is unlikely. The eight losing teams from the “play-in” round will be the 8th-15th slots. But we don’t know which team is in which slot. Their odds will be as follows:

8. Team A: 6.0%
9. Team B: 5.0%
10. Team C: 3.5%
11. Team D: 3.0%
12. Team E: 2.5%
13. Team F: 2.0%
14. Team G: 1.5%
15. Team H: 1.0%

So we have to move on to the “second” draft.

This “second” draft of the lottery will take place after the “play-in” round and before the start of the 16-team playoffs. The eight teams eliminated will conduct a drawing, with all eight having equal odds, to determine which team gets which draft spot. Yes, they are having a lottery to enter the draft lottery. Classic.

For funsies, let’s say the #8 slot (TEAM A above) wins the lottery. This did occur in 2011 when New Jersey won, but could only move up four spots to #4. That means any of the eight teams who lose in the play-in round could pick first overall — even the Oilers if they are upset by Chicago.

I hope for Oilersnation sake that isn’t the case, as fans deserve to watch their team in the playoffs, but the chaos that would ensue league-wide would be comedic.

Considering the past few draft lotteries, it is very possible one of the losing teams, possibly two, from the play-in tournament could be selecting in the top three.

The draft lottery will be exciting, to say the least, and we probably will see one draft on June 26th, and then a second one after the play-in round.

WHEN IS THE NHL DRAFT?

It will be after the conclusion of the playoffs, assuming the NHL is able to complete them. No exact date, but the NHL wisely opted to host the draft in the normal sequence of after the Stanley Cup is handed out and prior to the start of free agency.

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When does the 2020/2021 season begin?

There is no set date, but it won’t begin in October. However, Bettman stated the plan is to play a full 82-game season and it might start with the Winter Classic, which is usually on New Year’s Day.

If they start in January that means the season won’t be complete until September, assuming they stick with the similar timeline length (October-June) of previous seasons. Starting three months later means finishing three months later.

But right now, next season is up in the air. Bettman did mention a later start “with people in the building,” which makes sense. The finances of the league would plummet if they played next season without fans, so delaying the start to January makes financial sense.

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MY THOUGHTS…

Dec 31, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett is seen out on the players bench talking with Referee Ian Walsh (29) as they played the New York Rangers during the second period at Rogers Place. Oilers won the game 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

It was nice to see the NHL come to their senses and have the draft after the conclusion of the season. It makes the most sense and it allows teams the best opportunity to make trades.

We can prepare for hockey games to resume late July or early August. Of course, that might change depending on C-19, but at least we have a timeline to prepare for. It is nice having something to look forward to.

The draft lottery adds a new element of suspense. I wonder how an organization like Montreal feels. The players are pumped because they have a new lease on life with a chance to make some noise in the playoffs, while the scouting staff is likely less enamoured with the reality they could end up picking much lower than they expected in March. The Canadiens could lose to Pittsburgh and then lose the “second” draft and end up picking 15th. Crazy.

There is one small benefit for the Oilers organization. If they lose the play-in round they will, at minimum, pick five slots higher than they would have had the league completed the regular season, or went directly to the playoffs, and the Oilers lost in the first round. The Oilers were also the only team who was top-two in their division that has to play in the play-in round, and I doubt the possibility to improve their draft position is much of consolation for that.

But the good news is the NHL has a plan to return and we are only two months away from watching games again. I’ll take that over the alternative.

What are your thoughts about the NHL’s plan?

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR