The National Hockey League moved one step closer to resuming its season that was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday the league officially ended its regular season and will skip to a playoff tournament to determine its 2019-20 Stanley Cup champion. Bettman also said the league will select two hub cities where games will resume.
The NHL is exploring locations including Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas where layout ideas have already been discussed. The host cities will "each have secure arenas, practice facilities, hotels and local transportation, Bettman said.
"Our players and our teams are clear they want to play to bring the season to its rightful conclusion," Bettman said on Tuesday, calling the plan "fair" and "our best options under the circumstances."
The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) executive board approved the 24-team postseason format proposal on Friday. The plan features 16 of the 24 teams paying in a five-game series. Under the plan, 16 of the 24 teams would compete in a first round, while the top four teams in each conference would compete for seeding.
Clubs will be allowed to bring 50 staff members to hub cities if the NHL resumes play, Bettman said, adding "comprehensive testing" protocols will be in place. The league will rank teams in each conference by percentage points used from March 11 standings, one day before the league suspended games due to Covid-19. The remaining seven teams will enter the draft lottery, Bettman said.
Though the NHL has completed its structure for restarting, Bettman added the league wouldn't "do anything until we are assured by medical professionals and the relevant government authorities that it is safe and prudent to do so."
Bettman said the NHL will move to open practice sites for voluntary workouts and on-ice training in early June, before moving to Phase 3 of its resumption plan, which will include opening training camps which it aims to start in "the first half of July." Phase 4 will be the final stage to restarting games. Bettman said games will be played "over the summer and into the early fall."
The NHL is the latest league to gingerly resume operations after suspended its games due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer also allowed players to work out at team sites.