Some kinda-exciting news from the National Hockey League on Tuesday as Commissioner Gary Bettman announced what amounts to a 24-team playoff format along with details on who will play who in the Qualifying Round, and a Round Robin format for determining the tops seeds in each conference. However, sorely lacking for fans is any official timeline or window for the return.

It can get a little confusing, in part because there different rules for the Qualifying Round and the Round Robin Seeding round, and because we fans have never experienced it before.

In all, the NHL's Return to Play Plan 24 teams are eligible to compete for this season's Stanley Cup. There are seven teams whose 2019-2020 seasons are officially over: Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings.

The top four teams in each conference through the NHL regular season, before the pause in mid-March, will not have to play in the Qualifying Round. They are - East: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers; West: St Louis Blues, Colorado Avalance, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars. Instead, those four teams atop each conference pla one another once each to determine their seeds 1-through-4 when the actual conference tournaments begin.

The other 16 teams, eight from each conference, have been paired - based on records -and will compete in a Best-Of-Five series format. This is the Qualifying Round. The winners of each series will then advance to the actual conference tournaments.

The pairings are as follows, via

The Eastern Conference qualifying round will have four best-of-5 series: the Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs. the Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points); the Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs. the New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points); the New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs. the Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points); and the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)..........

The Western Conference best-of-5 qualifying round series are: the Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs. the Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points); the Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs. the Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points); the Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs. the Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points); and the Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs. the Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points).

There different rules I referred to are this: In the Best of 5 series Qualifying Round, playoff overtime rules will apply, but in the Round-Robin style games to determine the top seeds in each conference, they will use regular-season overtime and shootout rules.

Once the league gets to the actual, official NHL Playoffs, with eight teams in each conference, playoff overtime rules would apply to all games.

The plan is to play all of these games in two 'hub' cities - one for the East teams and another for the West.

The 'Where' has been narrowed down to the following cities: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver, via

The Commissioner said the decision on the hub cities and when the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations. A comprehensive system for testing will be in place in each hub city. Each team will be permitted to travel a maximum of 50 personnel, including players, coaches and staff, to its hub city.

The 'When' seems to be undetermined, exactly. I've heard a lot of talk on Sports-Talk radio saying NHL officials say none of this could start before July 1. However, that doesn't neccessarily mean early July is the 'target date.' Based on conditions in the possible 'hub' citiies, the league could opt to hold off on a this expanded, all-in-one-location scrum until....August? September?

And, theoretically, if things in North America did get significantly worse, it's possible none of this happens at all.


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