NHL season resumes 1st August
by Martin Merk|07 JUL 2020
The NHL could resume play in earliest two months. One of the qualifying round pairings for the Stanley Cup Playoffs – and the most popular one according to a fan poll on the NHL’s Twitter account – will be Edmonton vs. Chicago as in the picture.
photo: Perry Nelson / USA Today Sports / Reuters
The NHL season will resume with a 24-team Stanley Cup playoffs on 1st August. The NHL and the NHLPA have tentatively agreed on the plan and on a CBA extension that could reportedly include an Olympic break for Beijing 2022 and Milan 2026.

The National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) have reached a tentative agreement on a Return to Play Plan and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that adds an additional four years to the term of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and includes transition rules and a new critical dates calendar.

As part of the tentative agreement, the following dates have been established:
July 13 – Start of formal training camps;
July 26 – Clubs travel to hub cities;
August 1 – Start of Qualifying Round.

The hub cities haven’t been officially named but media reports indicate that the Stanley Cup Playoffs could be played in Edmonton (Western Conference) and Toronto (Eastern Conference) without fans in attendance. If everything goes according to plan, the Stanley Cup Champion 2020 could be crowned in the first week of October.

The tentative agreement is now subject to approval by the NHL’s Board of Governors, as well as the NHLPA’s Executive Board followed by the full NHLPA membership. The respective review and approval processes will take place over the next few days so that the training camps could open next Monday. Those would start with up to 30 skaters per team and no limits to the numbers of goaltenders.

Extensive COVID-19 testing will continue at each team with a daily test for players and personnel.

During Phase 2 (voluntary training at the clubs’ facilities in small groups) 396 players had reported to their clubs and 2,900 COVID-19 tests were conducted. 23 players were tested positive and have been self-isolated in addition to 12 additional players who were tested positive outside of the NHL’s Phase 2 protocol.

After the start of the training camp the teams will travel to the hub cities and be housed in secure zones. Each club will be permitted to a maximum of 52 persons in the secure zones including a maximum of 31 players, as well as coaches, team staff, other personnel and club owners and executives.

The format will be as announced in May: The top-4 teams of each conference are directly qualified for the Conference Quarter-Finals and play a round robin for the seeding. The teams ranked 5-12 will play a qualifying round in the best-of-5 format. After that the series will switch to a best-of-7 format. The first rounds are played in each hub city while the Conference Finals with the last four teams and the Stanley Cup Finals will be played in one hub city.

For the seeding the NHL will not use classic playoff brackets but teams will be reseeded after each round similar to the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with the highest remaining seed in each conference will face the lowest remaining seed, the second-highest remaining seed in each conference will face the second-lowest remaining seed, etc.

Below are the qualified teams and the pairings for the qualifying round in the Eastern and Western Conference respectively:

Planning beyond 2020

The NHL and the NHLPA have not only discussed about the resumption of the season but also about extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement they will now vote on.

No details have been announced about the CBA extension until September 2026 but it will “enable planning for an international calendar and events”. Media reports yet to be confirmed indicate that it could enable NHL players to return to participate in the Olympic Winter Games.

The NHL made Olympic breaks for the Winter Olympics between 1998 and 2014 after long discussions with the IIHF in the ‘90s to enable best-on-best ice hockey tournament at the biggest platform for winter sports but players were deprived from a participation in PyeongChang 2018 and many top players have been voicing for a return.

Details will become known in the upcoming days and if an Olympic participation will become part of the CBA, the NHL will discuss further details with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee.

The next Olympic Winter Games are scheduled for Beijing in 2022 and for Milan in 2026.