The dynamic changes by the day, if not by the hour, but sources on both sides of the aisle have told The Post that the NHL’s reopening plan has shifted from completing the 2019-20 regular season to instead staging a 24-team tournament that would include a best-of-three play-in round.
Global pandemic-related issues such as testing — procuring enough kits, swabs, and attendant equipment and labs to enable regular testing with rapid results — remain outstanding as the NHL and NHLPA continue to meet regularly with their own constituencies and jointly with a shared objective of crowning a 2020 Stanley Cup champion.
NHL players remain under a stay-at-home advisory that is expected to be updated within the week. No official timeline for opening club training facilities to individual or small group workouts has been established by the league, which would have to operate under guidelines established by local health boards and governing bodies.
There are also international travel and US-Canada border-crossing restrictions in place that would appear to be obstacles to a quick reopening.
Local television commitments had been the driving force behind a number of teams’ insistence that the 189 games remaining on the schedule be played, for there is up to $150 million at stake if the remainder of the regular season is wiped out.
But we are told that the league’s focus has shifted to the tournament plan for three basic reasons: 1) Condensing the duration of play to better guard against the potential of a second wave of the coronavirus striking and necessitating a second shutdown; 2) Avoiding having to reassemble teams with no realistic chance of making the playoffs and having them play up to a month’s worth of meaningless games; 3) Avoiding the prospect of a quarantine within a hub city/hotel for up to four months, including a three-week training camp, for teams going deep into the playoffs following a regular-season completion.
The format of a 24-team tournament has not yet been established. But if the league goes with the top 12 teams in each conference, that would include every club at NHL .500 or better when play stopped on Mar. 11. That structure would include the Rangers and Chicago.
If the league were for some reason go with the six top teams in each division—the NHL hasn’t had a division-based playoff system since 1992-93—that would mean that the Sabres (.493) would replace the Rangers (.564) and the Ducks (.472) would replace the Blackhawks (.514).
A decision to go directly to a tournament would allow the league to establish a draft lottery under which the seven teams on the other side of the cut line would be eligible for the first-overall pick. Those clubs would be the Red Wings, Senators, Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Sabres and Devils.
The order of selection determined by the lottery drawing would apply whether the draft is held in June or following completion of the tournament.
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