Gary Bettman confirms regular-season is complete,
defending champion Blues finish Central Division champions
Gary Bettman outlined the details on Tuesday of the NHL's Return to Play Plan including a 24-team playoff, which was approved with a 29-2 vote by the NHLPA on Friday.
The tournament will begin with a 16-team qualifying round, and a three-game round-robin for the top four teams in each conference, which includes the Blues in the Western Conference, to determine seeding for the first round of the playoffs.
The NHL has been on pause since March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and Bettman announced that the remainder of the regular-season will not be completed, so the Blues finished it 42-19-10, good for 94 points, most in the West and Central Division champions.
The 12 qualifying teams from each conference were determined by points percentage as of that date. Seven teams (San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Detroit, Buffalo, Ottawa and New Jersey) did not qualify.
The top four seeds in each conference include the Blues, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West and Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East.
"I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount," Bettman announced. "While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so.
"Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans are telling us in overwhelming numbers that they want us to complete the season if at all possible. And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.
"Although we are anxious to get back on the ice, we will not do anything until we are assured by medical professionals and the relevant government authorities that it is safe and prudent to do so."
Executives from the NHL came up with an initial plan for the Return to Play and needed at least an 18-member vote by the NHLPA to win approval. Only Tampa Bay and Carolina voted against the play in the 29-2 vote.
A Return to Play committee was compromised by executives from the NHL and player representatives included Connor McDavid (Edmonton), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), John Tavares (Toronto), James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia) and Ron Hainsey (Ottawa).
"It took a collaborative effort to get where we are today, and their insight, input, wisdom and passion for our games and its traditions were essential in the process that produced the plan," Bettman said.
The qualifying round and round-robin games will be held at two hub cities yet to be determined, and although St. Louis had interest in being a hub city, it was not revealed on a group of 10 that has yet to be whittled down to two. They include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
Each team will be permitted to travel a maximum of 50 personnel, which includes players, coaches and staff, to its hub city.
Following are details of the Return To Play Plan:
* The 2019-20 regular season is declared concluded through games of March 11. The 189 games originally scheduled from March 12-April 4 will not be played.
* 24 teams will resume play: the top 12 in each conference on the basis of points percentage at the pause (through games of March 11).
* Since the league’s pause on March 12, the league has been in Phase 1 with teams having been instructed to self-isolate as much as possible.
Phase 2 – Early June
* In early June, it is expected that teams will be permitted to return to home facilities for small group, voluntary, and on- and off-ice training.
Phase 3 – Not Earlier than first half of July
* Not earlier than first half of July, formal training camps will begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities.
Phase 4 – Timing TBD
* 24 teams in 2 “hub” cities will compete in seeding round robins, a qualifying round and conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs.
* Each conference is assigned a “hub” city with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities and in-market transportation.
* Teams will be limited to 50 personnel in the “hub” city with only a small number of support staff permitted to enter the event areas.
* Timing and sites will be determined at a future date and will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations.
* In each Conference, teams seeded by points percentage.
Round Robin: The top 4 teams play for first round seeding (regular-season overtime rules in effect)
Qualifying Round: The remaining 8 teams play best-of-5 series to advance to the first round (playoff overtime rules in effect)
First Round and Second Round: Format (seeding vs. bracket) and series lengths to be determined
Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final: Best-of-7 series
* The winners from the qualifying round play the top 4 seeds in the first round. Individual first round series matchups remain to be determined.
City 1 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round
1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Washington Capitals
4. Philadelphia Flyers
City 1 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets
City 2 – Round Robin for Seeding in First Round
1. St. Louis Blues
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Vegas Golden Knights
4. Dallas Stars
City 2 – Best-of-5 Qualifying Round
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks
#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild
#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets
The NHL Draft Lottery will determine the order for the first 15 selections of the 2020 NHL Draft. The picks will be awarded to the seven teams that do not resume play and the eight teams that do not advance from the qualifying round (or the teams that acquired their first-round picks). It's long, it's hard to understand, and it doesn't affect the Blues, so if one is eager and anxious to see the outlined plans, NHL.com has all the details.
"Obviously, we anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall," Bettman said. "At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances and the needs of the players."
As for the Blues, the round-robin games will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules with ties in the standings broken by regular-season points percentage.
"Obviously, these are extraordinary and unprecedented times," Bettman said. "Any plan for the resumption of play, by definition, cannot be perfect. And I am certain that, depending on which team you root for or which team you cover, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently.
"But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that, as a practical matter, might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused. And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL."
As for the Blues, goalie Jake Allen finished the season second in goals-against average (2.15) and fourth in save percentage (.927), both career-highs. Captain Alex Pietrangelo finished sixth among defensemen in points (62) and second in goals (16), while goalie Jordan Binnington's 30 wins rank third in the league.
Center Ryan O'Reilly led the Blues in points (61) and assists (49), while forwards David Perron and Brayden Schenn tied for the team lead in goals (25).
Also, forward Vladimir Tarasenko should return completely healthy from the dislocated left shoulder he sustained last Oct. 24 against the Kings that required surgery on Oct. 29. Tarasenko, who had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games, was to have made a return on March 21.