The NHL is the first major American sports league to announce a plan toward resuming games and finishing a season that was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioner Gary Bettman detailed how a 2020 Stanley Cup champion will be crowned, presuming the league stays on track to get back on the ice this summer.

“As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day for NHL fans,” Bettman said Tuesday. “Since March 12, we've been hopeful and optimistic that by developing all options and alternatives, we could get to this point. I know I join sports fans everywhere when I say we cannot wait for the players to hit the ice again.”

The 2019-2020 regular season is officially over, even though no team has completed its 82-game schedule. Every team has played somewhere between 68 and 71 contests, and the playoff picture will be based on the current standings.

The NHL’s Return To Play Plan calls for a revised postseason format. Instead of 16 teams reaching the playoffs, 24 of the league’s 32 teams will participate in the postseason.

The top four teams in each conference will earn a first-round bye. The next eight teams in the East and West will compete in a five-game series for a chance to play in the second round.

That means the No.5 seed in each conference is scheduled to take on the No.12 seed. The team with the sixth-best record will face the team that ranks 11th, and so on.

The final standings are based on points percentage since teams haven’t played the same amount of games. For instance, the Edmonton Oilers are fourth in the West with 83 points and the Dallas Stars are fifth with 82 points. But Dallas makes the top four over Edmonton because they played two fewer games.

Here are the first-round matchups.


No.5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No.12 Montreal Canadiens

No.6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No.11 New York Rangers

No.7 New York Islanders vs. No.10 Florida Panthers

No.8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No.9 Columbus Blue Jackets


No.5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No.12 Chicago Blackhawks

No.6 Nashville Predators vs. No.11 Arizona Coyotes

No.7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No.10 Minnesota Wild

No.8 Calgary Flames vs. No.9 Winnipeg Jets

The top four teams in each conference will play three games in a round-robin tournament. The results will determine their seed for the second round. 

According to Bettman, the NHL hasn’t decided if the conference semifinals will be best-of-five or a traditional seven-game series. The option to either re-seed after the first round or maintain the bracket format are both being weighed.

The top seeds won’t have the advantage of playing in their home venues. The NHL will use two hub cities, one hosting the East playoffs and the other hosting the West playoffs. Ten cities (Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Toronto) are being considered.

Fans are not expected to be in attendance, but no official announcement has been made regarding empty-arena games.

Training camps won’t resume before July 1. The Stanley Cup Finals would likely conclude in the early part of the fall.