We don’t know when, we don’t know where, and we still don’t know if it will be possible to play hockey during a pandemic, but we do know the format of the imagined NHL Summer Stanley Cup tournament.
After talks between the league and the NHLPA Return to Play Committee, it was decided that the four rounds of the 16-team playoffs that will follow the initial qualifying round will be all traditional of the best of seven.
Additionally, teams will be reseeded after each round. That’s the structure under which the Cup playoffs were played from 1994 to 2013, before the league moved into the uneven parenthesis system that created scenarios like the 2018 Western Conference second round showdown between Nashville and Winnipeg. , the clubs with the two best records in the NHL.
The NHL had favored the best-of-five series for the first two rounds of the playoffs, while initially supporting the support format. The league is believed to have supported shorter series to minimize the amount of time players would be quarantined in their respective central cities, as well as to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
But the players supported keeping the traditional best-of-seven largely so that the Cup champion must win the same 16 playoff games that all starters have had since 1987. That was an argument on the credibility side. The NHLPA also pushed for the replanting.
The teams that ranked fifth to twelfth by percentage in each conference will meet in a best-of-five qualifying round. At the same time, the top four teams from each side will play a round robin to determine the order of the first four seeds. The eight qualifying round winners will join the eight seeded teams to form the 16-team playoff field.
The Rangers will face Carolina, the Islanders will face Florida, Toronto will play Columbus and Pittsburgh will skate Montreal in the Eastern Playoffs, while Edmonton will play Chicago, Nashville will face Arizona, Vancouver will face Minnesota, and Calgary will will face Winnipeg in the West.
The Bruins, Lightning, Caps and Flyers will compete in the round robin of the East, while the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars will play in the West.
There is no timeline yet to put this event on ice, but the training grounds don’t appear to open until the second week of July. In that case, the qualifying round will likely start in early August.
The league was expected to order the teams to open their practice tracks this week for Phase 2 small group practice, but that obviously did not happen. Next week, maybe, once all the teams are in place they meet the health and hygiene guidelines
The NHL and NHLPA are in ongoing talks on reopening protocols, as well as on CBA-related issues, including the critical issue of custody. The parties continue to explore the feasibility of extending the CBA that expires after the 2021-22 season.