NHL reaches return-to-play format; Vancouver on short list of hub cities
VANCOUVER -- The National Hockey League has announced a comprehensive plan to finish the season and award the Stanley Cup at the conclusion of a 24 team tournament that includes the Vancouver Canucks.
"Our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday.
The tournament, which needs approval from health officials, will take place in two hub cities featuring 12 teams each and Bettman specifically mentioned Vancouver as one possible host, along with Toronto, Edmonton and several American cities.
"If I was bringing my family from some part of North America, or indeed from Europe, would I want to spend a summer in Toronto, Edmonton or Vancouver?” B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a late day news conference. “I think Vancouver speaks for itself."
But there could be challenges for any potential host city north of the border because of Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving in the country from overseas.
League officials have said such a quarantine would not mesh with the plan to resume the season, but also don’t plan to make a final decision on hub cities for a few more weeks.
When play resumes, the top four teams in each conference will play a simple round robin to determine their seeding in the playoffs.
The remaining eight teams in each conference will be matched up based on their final regular season winning percentage and play a best of five game series for a spot in the final 16.
The Vancouver Canucks have drawn a matchup with the Minnesota Wild for that opening round.
The two teams last met in the playoffs in the second round in 2003 when the Wild came from behind to beat the Canucks in a seventh game.
Canucks fans will be hoping for a different result this time.
"100 per cent. I think the management is good. There's great players. The energy's here,” said Takicho Szocs. “Lots of fans. We're out here and we want to see the Canucks get the cup."
"I can't wait. I can't wait to watch the Canucks play again,” added fellow Canucks fan Billy Lew.
Physical distancing is obviously not possible during tight checking playoff games but the league says its plan includes as many precautions as possible, with thousands of COVID-19 tests being used on players, coaches and support staff during the tournament.
Fans will only be able to watch the games on TV as they will be played in empty arenas.
The next step in the four phase plan is expected to begin in June when players will return to their team’s cities to begin gathering in small groups for informal on-ice workouts.
Phase 3 includes a training camp and the league hopes that will happen sometime in July.
In the fourth phase, the tournament will begin and the league hopes to award the Stanley Cup sometime in the fall, which the commissioner says could push the start of next season to December or even January.