NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman shared Tuesday afternoon the league's plans to return to play after the COVID-19 hiatus that began March 12. The plan, in essence, ends the 2019-2020 regular season, and resumes play with an expanded playoff field.

The field will consist of the best 24 teams, expanding from the 16 teams that normally would participate in the playoffs. The top 12 teams in the Eastern Conference and top 12 teams in the Western Conference based on point totals from when league play paused will earn a bid into the playoffs.

The games will be based in two hub cities, which have yet to be named. One site will host the Eastern Conference games, while the other will host Western Conference games. Bettman says secure practice facilities, hotel space, and transportation are part of the plan for each of the two host cities.

Comprehensive testing will be a part of the plan to resume activities through the entire process, with a date in early June when teams can start gathering for small-group training and practices at team facilities. At a date no earlier than July 1, official training camps will resume. These dates are all contingent on when health officials have deemed it safe for these activities to occur.

Being the start dates of small group and formal training and practices are in flux, the league has not set any dates for games at this time. Bettman said in a video posted by the league that they "anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall".

The league is waiting to finalize the two hub cities "for a number of reasons", but they have identified a series of possible sites. Among those sites are:

  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Edmonton, AB
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Toronto, ON
  • Vancouver, BC

The playoff participants from each conference are:

Eastern Conference

  • Boston Bruins
  • Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Washington Capitals
  • Philadelphia Flyers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Carolina Hurricanes
  • New York Islanders
  • Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Florida Panthers
  • New York Rangers
  • Montreal Canadiens

Western Conference

  • St. Louis Blues
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • Dallas Stars
  • Edmonton Oilers
  • Nashville Predators
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • Calgary Flames
  • Winnipeg Jets
  • Minnesota Wild
  • Arizona Coyotes
  • Chicago Blackhawks

The top four teams in each of these lists will compete round-robin to determine seeding. The remaining teams on each list will compete in a best-of-five qualifying round. The Minnesota Wild will compete against Vancouver in that qualifying round to advance.

The full format for the remaining games will look like this:

 

  • 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 both to be determined
  • Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final: Best-of-7 series

Stanley Cup Final Series location(s) have yet to be determined, but the hub city host sites are likely contenders to host the final games of the playoffs. You can see the full playoff breakdown and get more information in the video above, or from the official release from the NHL here.