When the rise of COVID-19 edged its way into pandemic territory, many sports had to cancel the remainder of their season, the National Hockey League (NHL) included. Cases continue to rise, and whether or not sports will make a return remains a mystery—at least, until recently.
On May 26, the NHL announced a Return to Play Plan that involved 24 teams in competition for the Stanley Cup. This competition, which will be starting with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, is set to start on August 1st. The qualifiers will have 16 teams playing eight best-of-5 series and a round-robin of the top four teams in each conference to decide who will be going to the playoffs later this season.
Due to the regular season being cut short, qualifying teams from both the Eastern and Western conferences were determined by points percentage in lieu of the missed 189 games. The qualifiers for each of 24 conference teams will be held at two hub cities: Toronto for the 12 Eastern Conference teams, and Edmonton for the 12 Western Conference teams. At each hub, there will be a comprehensive testing system to ensure the health and safety of all players, personnel, coaches, and staff, and each team will be restricted to traveling with a maximum of 52 people for all of those positions combined.
“I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff, and our communities are paramount,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said when the Return to Play Plan was announced back in May.
“… Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want 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.”
The Eastern Conference teams include the following: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Western Conference teams include the following: St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets.
The teams that did not qualify for the qualifiers are the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, and Detroit Red Wings.