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Stanley Cup playoffs 2020: Everything we know about the NHL's potential resumption

Sporting News — (Jackie Spiegel)

The NHL is continuing to inch closer to a return.

On May 26, commissioner Gary Bettman announced the steps the league and the NHL Players' Association agreed upon to move forward, including the official ending of the 2019-20 season, a 24-team return-to-play format and how the draft lottery will look.

Translation? There's still a lot to be ironed out — and, it needs to be noted, nothing is guaranteed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — but one thing appears to be more and more likely: a 2020 Stanley Cup champion will be crowned.

"I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff, our communities are paramount," Bettman said during the reveal of the format on Tuesday. "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."

When it'll happen is still in flux because of such things as location, COVID-19 testing and mandatory 14-day quarantines to anyone entering Canada.

MORE: NHL's Phase 2 details

On Monday, the NHL rolled out a detailed and thorough Phase 2 plan with Phase 3, and training camps, still to be determined. Phase 2 is not expected to start until early June with Phase 3 tentatively slated for mid-July.

Here's everything we know so far about the NHL's potential return to the ice in Phase 4:

Is the 2019-20 season over?

Yes. Bettman announced the 2019-20 season has officially concluded.

With that information, the Boston Bruins are the 2019-20 Presidents' Trophy winners (100 points), backstopped by their William M. Jennings Trophy winners Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.

The Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl captures his first Art Ross Trophy with 110 points and Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak finish the season with 48 goals each to split the Rocket Richard Trophy. Ovechkin, who notched his 700th goal this season, now has nine goal-scoring titles to his name.

MORE ON: Rocket Richard Trophy | Art Ross Trophy | 2019-20 season

How many teams will return to play?

As reported by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman on May 20, the league, the players and the Return to Play Committee have agreed on a 24-team format.

The top 24 teams based on points percentage — as teams had not all played the same number of games when the season was paused on March 12 — are seeded 1-12 in each conference. Seven teams will not resume play and will automatically enter the draft lottery.

Eastern Conference

1Boston Bruins44-14-12.714
2Tampa Bay Lightning43-21-6.657
3Washington Capitals41-20-8.652
4Philadelphia Flyers41-21-7.645
5Pittsburgh Penguins40-23-6.623
6Carolina Hurricanes38-25-5.596
7New York Islanders35-23-10.588
8Toronto Maple Leafs36-25-9.579
9Columbus Blue Jackets33-33-15.579
10Florida Panthers35-26-8.565
11New York Rangers37-28-5.564
12Montreal Canadiens31-31-9.500

Western Conference

1St. Louis Blues42-19-10.662
2Colorado Avalanche42-20-8.657
3Vegas Golden Knights39-24-8.606
4Dallas Stars37-24-8.594
5Edmonton Oilers37-25-9.585
6Nashville Predators35-26-8.565
7Vancouver Canucks36-27-6.565
8Calgary Flames36-27-7.564
9Winnipeg Jets37-28-6.563
10Minnesota Wild35-27-7.558
11Arizona Coyotes33-29-8.529
12Chicago Blackhawks32-30-8.514

Teams that will not return

Buffalo Sabres30-31-8.493
New Jersey Devils28-29-12.493
Anaheim Ducks29-33-9.472
Los Angeles Kings29-35-6.457
San Jose Sharks29-36-5.450
Ottawa Senators25-34-12.437
Detroit Red Wings17-49-5.275

How would the playoffs work?

Brackets! No. Re-seeding! Ok, for now, there's no agreement on how things will look beyond what's being called the "Qualifying Round." As Bettman told NBCSN's Mike Tirico, the NHL likes brackets while the players like re-seeding and for now it's still a topic that's being discussed.

Here's what we do know.

There will be normal conference playoffs, meaning Eastern Conference teams play Eastern Conference teams and Western Conference Teams play Western Conference teams.

Round Robin for top-four teams

The top four seeds in each conference will receive byes from the "Qualifying Round" and will play a round-robin for seeding purposes for the usual first round of the playoffs (16 teams). If these games go to overtime, it'll be regular-season overtime rules. If there is a tie in points at the conclusion of the round-robin, percentage points from the regular season will be used as a tiebreaker.

Eastern Conference

1Boston Bruins44-14-12.714
2Tampa Bay Lightning43-21-6.657
3Washington Capitals41-20-8.652
4Philadelphia Flyers41-21-7.645

Western Conference

1St. Louis Blues42-19-10.662
2Colorado Avalanche42-20-8.657
3Vegas Golden Knights39-24-8.606
4Dallas Stars37-24-8.594

Qualifying Round

The teams seeded 5-12 will face off in what's being coined the "Qualifying Round." These series will be best-of-five match-ups and will feature the usual playoff overtime rule of play till someone scores. Winners of these series will then meet the top-four teams in a still to be determined setting.

Eastern Conference opening-round series

(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

Western Conference opening-round series

(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

2020 Stanley Cup playoffs

Once the teams are whittled down to 16, it will be the Stanley Cup playoffs. The length of the first two rounds is still unknown at this point, but the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven affairs.

Where will the games be held?

Hub cities is the magic word in sports right now and the NHL officially said on Tuesday they will return to play in two still to be determined locations.

Bettman announced that 10 teams are in the running to serve as hub cities.

Chicago, Ill.United StatesBlackhawks
Columbus, OhioUnited StatesBlue Jackets
Dallas, Tex.United StatesStars
Edmonton, Alta.CanadaOilers
Las Vegas, Nev.United StatesGolden Knights
Los Angeles, Calif.United StatesKings*
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.United StatesWild
Pittsburgh, Penn.United StatesPenguins
Toronto, Ont.CanadaMaple Leafs
Vancouver, B.C.CanadaCanucks

*The Kings season has officially ended.

"The reason there are so many cities still in contention is we didn't want to be in a situation with things in the world moving so quickly, changing from day-to-day, we didn't want to get locked in," Bettman told Tirico, noting a decision is at minimum three weeks away. "We don't want to go to a place where there's a lot of COVID-19. We don't want to go to a place where we can't get the testing we need, there's going to be extensive testing...and there are governmental issues. 

"For example, currently, we don't think we can do this in the Canadian markets because there's a 14-day quarantine...if we get done with training camp and we want to go to a Canadian city, and to do that we have to quarantine a team for another 14-days, that isn't going to work."

Will fans be able to attend?

Bettman didn't address this on Tuesday but probably not. The league has looked into it but the complications are massive. 

Will players be tested for COVID-19?

Players will be tested daily according to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

"We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we'll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test," Daly said in a Zoom call on May 26. "It's expensive, but we think it's really a foundational element of what we're trying to accomplish."

Bettman said that each test will cost around $125 with an estimated 25,000-35,000 tests needed for the entire playoffs according to the AP.