All the Key Information About the NHL's Return to Play
This is a busy month on the calendar as far as the potential return of professional sports to the landscape. MLB is expected to get underway on July 23 with the first games of what is going to be a 60-game season. The NBA is slated to have exhibition games beginning July 22 with the seeding games scheduled to begin on July 30. Meanwhile, the NHL, having finally nailed down a return to play proposal that was agreed on by the NHLPA and the owners, are ready to start training camps in their hub cities later this month with the first games of the expanded postseason slated to kick off August 1.
Today, we break down all the important dates and information for the NHL’s postseason as they attempt to award the Stanley Cup.
Where: The two hub cities for the NHL’s restart are both north of the border in Edmonton and Toronto. Western Conference teams play in Edmonton and Eastern Conference teams are in Toronto for the early rounds of the postseason. Once the conference finals are reached, those, along with the Stanley Cup Finals, will take place in Edmonton. It marks the first time since the 1925-26 season that an entire Stanley Cup Finals series will take place north of the border. That year, it was the Montreal Maroons dispatching the Ottawa Senators 1-0-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals after besting Pittsburgh in the semifinals. The two games in the Finals saw the teams combine for three goals: Game 1 was a 1-1 tie before Montreal won Game 2 by a 1-0 score.
Start Date: The postseason gets underway beginning on August 1 with Game 1 of the Eastern Conference qualifying rounds involving fifth-seeded Pittsburgh and 12th-seeded Montreal, sixth-seeded Carolina and the 11th-seeded New York Rangers, along with the seventh-seeded New York Islanders against the 10th-seeded Florida Panthers in Toronto. In addition, Game 1s of the qualifying round in the Western Conference will take place in Edmonton as the fifth-seeded Oilers face the 12th-seeded Blackhawks and the eighth-seeded Flames take on the ninth-seeded Jets.
On August 2, seventh-seeded Vancouver battles 10th-seeded Minnesota and sixth-seeded Nashville tangles with 11th-seeded Arizona in the opening game of those qualifying round series in Edmonton. Meanwhile, eighth-seeded Toronto opens their qualifying series with ninth-seeded Columbus in Toronto. In addition, the first game of the round-robin contests involving the top four teams in each conference take place. St. Louis clashes with Colorado in Edmonton while Boston does battle with Philadelphia in Toronto.
Meanwhile, Washington faces off with Tampa Bay in Toronto while Dallas battles Vegas in Edmonton for their first round-robin contests on August 3.
Start Times: If you’re a fan of the NHL and you love the all-day affair that the opening couple of days of March Madness bring to the table, you’re in luck. The league has announced that games in Toronto will have puck drop scheduled for 12 pm ET, 4 pm ET and 8 pm ET on days with three games in the hub. Meanwhile, Edmonton’s contests will have puck drops scheduled for 2 pm ET, 6:30 pm ET and 10:30 pm ET. During the qualifying rounds, those contests could vary by up to 30 minutes depending on what time the previous contest may end.
Other Important Dates for the Postseason: Teams officially began training camp today, July 13, and will have about 10 days to get acclimated in their home cities before making the trip to the hub cities. Clubs are expected to make their way to their hub cities on July 24 and play an exhibition game on July 25 before Phase 4 of the return to play initiative officially gets underway on July 30. The official first round of the playoffs is slated to begin on August 11 with the final round-robin games or potential Game 5 of the qualifying rounds scheduled for August 9.
As it stands, the second round of the postseason is tentatively scheduled for August 25 with the conference finals scheduled to begin on September 8. Under that slate, the Stanley Cup Finals are slated to begin on September 22 with the latest possible date for the series to be October 4. While the qualifying round is a best-of-five series, the other rounds of the postseason are scheduled for best-of-seven situations.
Impact on 2020/21 Season: The current plan is, as is the usual, is that the draft will take place after the Stanley Cup Finals. Under the current setup, the draft would be tentatively slated for October 9 and 10. Remember that one of the eight teams to lose in the qualifying round of the postseason will end up with the #1 overall pick in the draft as a result of the draft lottery last month. The second round of the draft lottery, which will determine which team will end up with that coveted spot and a shot at Alexis Lafreniere, will take place on August 10. Free agency would take place in mid-October, likely shortly after the draft takes place.
Training camps for the 2020/21 season are currently scheduled to get started on November 17. The season is planned to kick off on December 1. Both sides are very interested in playing a full 82-game slate, which would mean the Stanley Cup would be awarded in July. The thought process is that both parties would like to get the Stanley Cup Finals over by July 23, 2021, which is when the opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will take place. Remember, those were pushed back a year thanks to the coronavirus.
That’s the important thing to take into consideration for the restart. We’ll take a look at how the teams are faring as far as health and such in the coming days to give you a better idea of what to expect when teams hit the ice for real in a few weeks.