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NHL Announces Plans to Return to Playing

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces return to play plans. (Image credit: NHL)

 

The National Hockey League, whose season was ended in March by the coronavirus, announced on Tuesday its plan to return to play.

The league did not specify exactly when games would return, but said it hoped to open training camps sometime in July and would start the Stanley Cup Playoffs some time after that. 

In addition to the NHL, the NBA’s season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. The start of the Major League Baseball season was postponed and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was canceled. All of those sports provide high-rated programming that attracts both subscription and advertising dollars. 

In a recent report Standard Media Index said that TV ad spending on sports was down 70% in April.

Other sports are working on their back to play plans, with the NBA and MLB holding discussions with players. The NFL recently held its draft on schedule and has released a fall schedule that would feature games during its normal season, concluding with the Super Bowl in February.

Comcast's NBC Sports pays about $200 million a year to televise regular season NHL games and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Today is a great day for hockey. We look forward to showcasing the NHL’s new plan, including the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, on the networks of NBCUniversal later this year while ensuring the safety of our team,” an NBC Sports spokesman said.

The NHL plan, announced by Commissioner Gary Bettman, calls for the regular season to be over and for 24 teams to resume play in a playoff that would consist of a round-robin for the teams with the best records and a qualifying round for the other teams.

“At the pause, we committed to resuming play only when appropriate and prudent. We are hopeful the Return to Play Plan will allow us to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup in a manner in which the health and safety of our players, on-ice officials, team staff and associated individuals involved are paramount. Accordingly, an essential component of the Plan is a rigorous, regular schedule of testing,” Bettman said.

“On the hockey side, the return-to-play format reflects the league’s extraordinary competitive balance while honoring the tradition and integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” he said.

The games will be played in two hub cities, which have not yet been identified. The cities in contention include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

The hub cities will have secure hotels, arenas and practice facilities and in-market transportation. Each team will be able to bring 50 personnel to the hub city. Fewer will be able to attend games.

The league has set up a testing procedure to protect the health of the players and other team personnel.

The winners of the qualifying round will play against the teams that were in the round robin. The conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final will be best of seven game series.

Eastern Conference teams in the round robin are the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.

Eastern conference qualifying round series will pit the Pittsburgh Penguins vs the Montreal Canadiens, the Carolina Hurricanes against the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders against the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Western Conference Round Robin teams are the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Dallas Stars.

Qualifying round matchup in the West are Edmonton Oilers vs Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators vs Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks vs Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets.