If the NHL resumes the 2019–20 season, it will hold a modified Stanley Cup Playoffs with 24 clubs in two "hub cities," commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday.
The league will not resume the regular season, instead choosing to start with conference-based playoffs. The modified postseason will feature 12 teams from the Eastern and Western conferences based on points percentage when the NHL paused on March 12.
Bettman emphasized that the health and safety of players and staffers are paramount. It remains unclear when the season will resume.
"Obviously, we anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall," Bettman said at Tuesday's press conference. "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."
The league won't restart until it is assured by government and medical authorities that it's safe to play.
If a league participant does test positive for COVID-19, however, during a possible resumption, the league would appear to continue play.
“Our medical advisors [believe] that a single positive test, depending on the circumstance, should not necessarily shut the whole operation down," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "Obviously we can’t be in a situation where we have an outbreak that will affect our ability to play. But a single positive test, throughout a two-month tournament, should not necessarily mean an end for the tournament.”
The NHL's modified playoff format will include a 16-team, eight-series qualifying round and a round-robin competition among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeding for the first round. The qualifying round and round-robin will be held at two hub cities to be identified—one for the 12 participating Eastern Conference teams and one for the 12 Western Conference teams.
Under that framework, the top four Eastern Conference teams are the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers. In the West, the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars will grab the top four spots.
The league's hub cities will be chosen at a later date and teams will be limited to bringing 50 personnel to the sites. Bettman confirmed there are 10 sites under consideration for hosting games. Candidates include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
Bettman's announcement comes four days after the NHL Players Association voted to approve the league's proposal of a 24-team, conference-based playoff format to restart the season.
Seven teams did not qualify for playoffs and their season is over. The Sabres, Devils, Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Senators and Red Wings will participate in the NHL Draft Lottery, which will hold its first phase on June 26.