NHL Canceled Season: New Stanley Cup Playoffs Format, Expanded Postseason and Hub Cities Explained

The NHL regular season is officially over and the league will move towards a revamped 24-team playoff format.

The 2019-20 season was halted on March 12 as the novel coronavirus outbreak began spreading across the U.S. and Canada. On Tuesday, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had taken the step of scrapping the remaining regular season games to move forward with the playoffs.

"As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day for NHL fans," he said on a conference call.

"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."

Here's what we know about the NHL's plans for resumption.

Is the NHL regular season over?

Yes. Speaking on Tuesday, Bettman made clear that the regular season is officially over and the remaining games will not be playe. That means that the Boston Bruins have clinched the Presidents' Trophy—reserved for the team that finishes with the best regular season record—while Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers is the recipient of the Art Ross Trophy, which is awarded to the player who leads the league in points at the end of the regular season.

Washington Capitals legend Alexander Ovechkin and Bruins star Richard Pastrnak have finished the regular season as joint top-scorers and will share the Maurice Richard Trophy.

Boston Bruins
Zdeno Chara #33, Ondrej Kase #28, Charlie McAvoy #73 and Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins celebrate a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third period at Wells Fargo Center on March 10 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 2-0. Drew Hallowell/Getty

What happens now?

With the regular season now over, the postseason will expand to accommodate 24 teams as opposed to the traditional 16. The top 12 teams for each conference will be determined on points percentage as opposed to points accrued—as teams had not all played the same number of games when the regular season was halted on March 12—and be seeded in descending order from the highest winning percentage.

The seven teams that have not made the playoffs will automatically enter the draft lottery.

Phase 2 of the NHL's Return to Play plan, which will involve players resuming training in small groups at team's facilities, is pencilled in for early next month. Formal training camps, Phase 3 of the plan, will start "no earlier than the first half of July."

New playoff format

The expanded postseason will see the NHL adopt a brand new format for the playoffs. The top four teams in each conference—Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Las Vegas and Dallas in the West—will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding in the first round. The games will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules.

The remaining 16 teams—divided by conferences—will play best-of-five series to determine which eight teams will join the four top teams in each conference in a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoffs. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best-of-seven series.

Eastern Conference round robin

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lighting
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers

Eastern Conference qualifying round

  • Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)
  • Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)
  • New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

Western Conference round robin

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars

Western Conference qualifying round

  • Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
  • Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
  • Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10)
  • Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)

Where will the playoffs be played?

The NHL has opted to hold the playoffs in two hub locations to minimise travel and ensure players and staff can remain relatively isolated—much as the NBA is looking to resume the season in either Las Vegas or Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

On Tuesday, Bettman said that 10 different cities were currently being considered as potential hub. The cities are Chicago, Illinois, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Texas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Canadian trio of Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver are also among the options, but the Canadian government's 14-day mandatory quarantine could force the NHL to settle for U.S. cities.

Each hub will host every game for one of the two conferences, with the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final to be played in one of the two cities.

St. Louis Blues, Stanley Cup Final
The St. Louis Blues celebrate their Stanley Cup victory following the Blues victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on June 12, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. s) Bruce Bennett/Getty

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