On May 26, Gary Bettman attended a virtual call to discuss where the NHL would go next in light of the COVID-19 epidemic. During the call, he offered details on how and when the league would resume play, along with updates on the NHL Draft.
There might be many things NHL fans remain in the dark over, but at least Bettman has given the league a structure to build around after the NHL and NHLLPA agreed on a format for this summer’s return to action. Bettman said that he believes that the format is the right one to uphold the sports’ tradition and history, and that we’ll see a team worthy of the Stanley Cup come to the fore.
A 24-Team Season
As has been previously reported, the season will begin with 24 teams competing, with the league’s seven other teams set to resume playing at the beginning of the 2020-21 season. The four highest-ranked teams in each conference will go on to play in the first round of the playoffs, with 16 teams competing in a qualifying round.
Two of the plans will see players returning to practice at team facilities in early June, albeit in smaller groups. In phase three, which is expected to be introduced no sooner than mid-July, we’ll see formal training camps, dependent on locally-issued safety guidelines. In phase four, 24 teams will participate in the playoffs in what will be two yet-to-be-named hub cities. No fans will be present for the games. Those who enjoy sports betting will at least be able to enjoy the action when watching the games at home.
Six Feet Apart
No more than six players will be allowed inside the facility at any one time, along with a limited number of staff members. The players will remain in their groups, so in the event of any exposure or infection, it will be contained within a single group. Personnel must remain six feet part and players will be required to wear face coverings upon entering and exiting the facility.
Of course, a lack of fans means that there will be no revenue from ticket sales, parking fees, concessions, or merchandise. The vast majority of NHL revenue is made on game days.
Bettman says that’s the NHL isn’t being driven by money, but it’s rather about giving the fans what they want. This might come across as disingenuous because, of course, the NHL wants to make money, and they will at least bring in some revenue from a fan-less return, as opposed to no revenue at all. As Bettman points out, however, this season is a financial disaster for the league compared to a normal season, anyway, whether it makes a return in the summer or not
A Two-Phase Draft
Bettman also offered news on the draft and draft lottery, which may consist of two phases. The lottery will be held on June 26. This is where the seven teams who won’t be taking part in the league this year, including the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres, will have the advantage. Each of these seven teams will have an opportunity to win the No. 1 selection, along with the second and third draft picks.
If the seven teams are awarded the first three picks, a second phase won’t be needed. If a pick is outside of the bottom seven, however, an additional lottery will take place for those teams that fail to advance beyond the qualifying round. Essentially, those teams that don’t make the playoffs will have a three percent chance of being awarded the top draft pick.