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Main Takeaways From the NHL’s Return to Play Plan

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The Predators will be back in the playoffs, AND still have a shot at the #1 overall pick... kind of

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Announces Return To Play Plan For Resumption Of Season Photo by NHL Images/NHLI via Getty Images

More than two months after the league stopped play over COVID-19 concerns, it appears the wheels are turning on the NHL’s return.

You’ll just have to wait a few more weeks to see your favorite players on the ice.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, via Zoom, delivered an update on the NHL’s Return to Play Plan. This of course came one day after the league released an extensive 22-page PDF, detailing “Phase 2” of said plan, which includes re-opening teams’ training facilities.

If you missed any of the updates from the past 24 hours, or...you know...don’t feel like reading a 22-page PDF, here are the key takeaways.

The NHL’s regular season is over

This means if and when play resumes, the league will jump straight into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There will be a 24-team playoff, and the Predators will be in it

The format basically shakes out like this: all teams in the conference will be ranked by points percentage. The fifth- through twelfth-ranked teams will play each other in a best of five play-in series. The top four teams in each conference will technically get a bye. However, they’ll play each other in a round-robin tournament to determine the top four seeds.

This means the Predators, who are ranked sixth in this scenario, would face the Arizona Coyotes in the play-in round. It’s a good opportunity to see which Predators players break curfew, get suspended, then leave the team in shame some excellent, defensive hockey.

The games won’t happen until July (at the earliest)

While there’s no official date for any of this, Bettman says no formal training camps will take place before July 1st. Logically, one could deduce that the games themselves wouldn’t take place until at least the middle of the month.

So, what happens until then?

As part of “phase 2,” the NHL plans to slowly allow players to resume workouts at the team facilities, with a few restrictions.

  • No more than six players in the team facility at any one time (plus minimal staff).
  • During this time, no coaches or trainers will be allowed on the ice for skating sessions, meaning any on-ice drills will be players-only. Coaches and hockey ops personnel will, however, be allowed to observe these sessions from a separate part of the facility.
  • Teams will be mandated to keep the same six players together for sessions during the duration of “phase two.” Training time will be broken into “shifts,” with goaltenders getting slightly more time than skaters.

Before all this happens, however, anyone (player or staff) must undergo testing for COVID-19 at least 48 hours before returning to the facility. Teams will also be required to implement temperature and symptom screenings for anyone entering the building.

Nashville Won’t Be a Hub City for Postseason Games

There was plenty of speculation that the city of Nashville might push the league to host games once play resumed, but the league confirmed that WON’T be the case.

There will only be two cities — one for the Eastern Conference games and one for the Western Conference Games — that host postseason games. Seven of the ten places under consideration are Western Conference markets: Las Vegas, Chicago, Edmonton, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Vancouver.

The league hasn’t made any final decisions regarding host cities, and there’s no timetable on when that decision could happen.

The NHL Draft Lottery is Weird, and the Preds Could Still Get the #1 Pick

For those of you asking about the NHL draft... here’s a brief summary.

No, really... it’s hella convoluted.

There will be a traditional NHL Draft Lottery on June 26th where the league draws for the first, second, and third picks in the draft. This will involve the seven teams who DIDN’T make the postseason. However, there will be eight “placeholder” spots available, representing the eight teams who will inevitably lose their first round play-in spots.

So the easy scenario is this... the teams who win all three lottery picks are all teams who didn’t make the playoffs. The draft lottery ends, the top three are set, and we all scamper off to do better things with our summer.

However, if one of those “placeholder” spots gets picked during the drawing, there will be a SECOND lottery after the play-in round, where the losers of those rounds will have a chance to earn that spot.

If that’s confusing, just take this point away: There’s still a chance Alexis Lafrenière becomes a Nashville Predator.

(I mean, they have to lose in the playoffs for that to happen, but those are small details.)

And of course...

This Is All Contingent on Current Events

As with everything involving the COVID-19 pandemic, hockey’s return is still very much in a “wait and see” situation. These plans are based on the best-case scenario. However, it’s important to note that things could change on a dime. As much as we want to see hockey’s return, the health and safety of our players, our team’s staff, and the general population should be our number one concern.