N.H.L. Announces Plan to Return Straight Into the Playoffs

More than two and a half months after shutting down because of the coronavirus outbreak, the National Hockey League became the largest North American professional sports league to announce definitive plans for a return.

Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the N.H.L., announced on Tuesday that 24 teams would return, if and when medically cleared, for a unique playoff tournament in two hub cities. Official training camps would resume no earlier than July 1, and the season would conclude with the presentation of the Stanley Cup to the 2019-2020 champion in the early autumn. The regular season was officially declared complete.

“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel,” Bettman said. “We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know it is appropriate and prudent and are approved to do so.”

The N.H.L. issued a memo on Monday that detailed testing and safety protocols for what it termed Phase 2, voluntary practices at team facilities that would begin in early June, if local shutdown ordinances have been lifted.

On Tuesday, Bettman outlined the next stages: the opening of training camps for all players, coaches and medical staff, and the start of a conference-based playoff. The hub cities, one hosting the Eastern Conference and one the Western Conference, will be chosen from a list that includes Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Edmonton, Alberta; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Pittsburgh; Vancouver; and Toronto. Bettman did not say whether fans would be allowed to attend the games, which would be broadcast on television.

Bettman said that teams would be allowed to bring back 50 employees, including players, coaches, medical staff and club officials, all of whom will be tested for the coronavirus throughout the process.

The players union, led by Donald Fehr, cautioned that though it had agreed with the league on the announced plans, there could be changes before play is resumed, including to health and safety protocols that were designed in conjunction with medical experts and the union. Some remaining financial matters will be addressed in talks between now and the beginning of the playoffs.

“If they need to be amended over time, we will amend them,” Fehr said. “This is a living document, and we have to make sure that logistically, we can actually implement the steps.”

When hockey resumes, the playoff will follow the format approved last week by the executive board of the N.H.L. Players’ Association, expanding the field to 24 teams from 16. The teams qualified based on their points percentages at the time the season was suspended.

The top four teams in each conference will receive a first-round bye. They are the Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers in the East, and the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Dallas Stars in the West.

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During the first round, those teams will play a conference-based round robin — three games each — to determine their seedings, one through four. The remaining 16 teams will commence best-of-five series to determine which eight of them will advance to the second round.

Bettman said that the league and the players union had not decided whether the second round would be best-of-five or best-of-seven and that the two factions were still discussing whether to reseed after the rounds or to maintain a bracket-style format.

The conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals will be best-of-seven, as usual, and will most likely be played in the two hub cities. But Bettman said that if conditions change, the venues might, too.

Seven teams — the Devils, the Buffalo Sabres, the Anaheim Ducks, the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks, the Ottawa Senators and the Detroit Red Wings — did not qualify for the playoffs. Their seasons ended immediately, each with a dozen or so games unplayed, and they will be entered into the draft lottery along with the eight teams that lose in the first round.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 27, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Can I go to the park?

      Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.

    • How do I take my temperature?

      Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How do I get tested?

      If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


For teams like the Rangers, who would have been eliminated from the playoffs in the traditional, 16-team format, the plan provides new life. As the East’s No. 11 seed, the Rangers will play the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. The No. 7 Islanders will play the No. 10 Florida Panthers.

The last N.H.L. games were played on March 11, the same night that Rudy Gobert of the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus while his team was in Oklahoma City to play the Thunder. That game was canceled, and most sports leagues’ events, including Major League Baseball’s spring training, shut down the next day.

Some sports have trickled back already, including NASCAR, and soccer and baseball in some countries. The PGA Tour announced plans to resume play on June 11 without fans in attendance and with testing procedures for golfers and caddies.

The National Football League is scheduled to start as planned in September, but the major American sports leagues that would have been in season now — men’s and women’s professional basketball and soccer, and M.L.B. — have faced daunting challenges in efforts to reach agreement with their players unions on safety measures and logistics.

The National Women’s Soccer League announced plans to return to training camp this month and end the season with a monthlong tournament in Salt Lake City. Members of the United States Women’s National Team have said that, because of health concerns, they may not participate in the N.W.S.L. tournament.

The M.L.B. and the N.B.A. are in negotiations with their players unions and medical experts to determine a way for them to come back, too. Some basketball teams have opened their practice facilities for players to train on a limited basis. The N.F.L. is in its off-season, and it is in the early stages of designing protocols for players, coaches and trainers to gather for mini-training camps in June.

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