NHL Could Return By End Of July, Eyeing 24 Team Post-Season

Posted on June 4, 2020 - Last Updated on June 3, 2020

The Chicago Blackhawks are returning to the playoffs! Well, them and 24 other teams when the National Hockey League (NHL) resumes play. Much like other major sports leagues, the NHL has been on hiatus since March but a return is possible by late July.

Commissioner Gary Bettman recently announced the ‘Return To Play Plan’ which will abandon the rest of the regular season and transition directly into the playoffs. This is great news for fans who have been patiently waiting for hockey’s return and those looking for NHL betting.

This is also exciting for teams like the Arizona Coyotes (74pts), Blackhawks (72pts), and Montreal Canadiens (71pts), who narrowly squeaked in.

Although Bettman and the NHL have agreed on what hockey would look like when it returns, the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) has not formally approved the return nor has an exact date been set.

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Last updated: July 7, 2020

After months of speculation, the NHL and NHLPA have reached an agreement for the return of hockey. Formal training caps will begin on July 13. Teams will travel to the selected hub cities on July 26 and the qualifying round of the playoffs will begin on August 1st.

The two hub cities chosen to kickstart the 2020 NHL playoffs will be Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. The 24-team tournament will conclude with the Stanly Cup Finals in Edmonton.

Approval is still needed by the NHL Board of Governors, the NHLPA Executive Board, and the full NHLPA membership. Votes are scheduled to take place in the next few days.

The NHL’s eventual return

During a live broadcast on May 26, Bettman laid out a few plan specifics and stressed the importance of precautions and safety measures.

“The health and safety of our coaches, players, and essential support staff — are paramount,” Bettman said. “However, we will not move forward with the plan — until we are approved to do so.”

Cornerstones of the Return To Play plan include:

  • Fans, players want NHL to resume
  • Guidance from civil and medical authorities
  • NHL-NHLPA partnership and cooperation
  • Health and safety are priorities

A phased rollout for NHL

For awards purposes, the 2019-20 NHL regular season has been complete. Additionally, the plan includes several complex details on the NHL draft order that are still being worked out.

But when it comes to post-season play, Bettman was very specific. Each conference (East and West) will be assigned a hub city, with “secure hotels, arena, practice facilities, and in-market transportation” to be announced at a later date.

Other restrictions include:

  • Teams will be limited to 50 personnel
  • All will undergo a comprehensive system of testing

Phase 2, which will begin in early June, allows teams to return to practice facilities for on and off ice training. Phase 3 which will be no earlier than July 1, will allow for formal training camps to start.

The final phase is when teams report to designated hub cities to resume play. Again, timing and locations are still TBD.

“This is all determined by developing circumstances, things are evolving rapidly,” Bettman said.  “We want this choice to be made with the best available information at the time.”

Bettman said should everything go as planned, the NHL will play early summer and into the fall.

Potential site locations for NHL games

As announced, the NHL playoffs will take place at two hub cities. Bettman and the NHL did provide a list of candidates which include major metropolitan areas like Chicago and Los Angeles. One interesting city, at least from a sports betting perspective is Las Vegas.

Considerations include:

  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Edmonton, AB
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
  • Pittsburg, PA
  • Toronto, ON
  • Vancouver, BC
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NHL post-season format

As stated, the postseason will look entity different this year with 24 teams — 12 in the East and 12 in the West — having the chance to hoist the Stanly Cup trophy.

The top 4 teams in each conference will play a round-robin (mini-tournament) to determine seeding (1-4).

Top teams in the Eastern Conference:

  • #1 Boston Bruins
  • #2 Tampa Bay Lightning
  • #3 Washington Capitals
  • #4 Philadelphia Flyers

Top teams in the Western Conference:

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

While the top four teams in each conference are busy deciding seeding, the remaining 16 teams (eight in each conference) will battle it out in a qualifying round. This will be a best-of-5 to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

It’s at this stage where things get tricky. The NHL has yet to determine if the next round, following the round-robin games and the qualifying round, will be a best-of-5 or a best-of-7.

The one concrete fact is, the Stanly Cup Finals will be a best-of-7.

NHL betting implications

While hockey is not the most popular sport to bet on, it’s a bit more lucrative than Russian table tennis. According to research from the American Gaming Association released in 2018, the NHL was projected to receive $65 million in additional revenue from gambling. This was on top of the $151 million generated from fan engagement, bringing the league’s estimated total revenue to $216 million.

The four-month hiatus has netted little to no money from gambling, with most sportsbooks only offering futures bets.

But now, even though exact dates have not been released, major operators like DraftKings, FanDuel, and William Hill are beginning to release odds for the first set of games.

Currently, the hometown Chicago Blackhawks are +135 against the Edmonton Oilers (-167) over at DraftKings Sportsbook.

FanDuel Sportsbook and William Hill have yet to release individual game odds but team futures are still available.

Nicholaus Garcia Avatar
Written by
Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago, writing about local politics, and in Washington, D.C., covering the expanding gambling industry. Now back in Chicago, he continues to write about the emerging sports betting market with a focus on the Midwest. Originally from West Texas, he graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

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