2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Set With 24 Teams, Including 16-Team Play-In Round; Capitals Get Play-In Bye

NHL.comPhoto: NHL.com

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday that the 2019-20 regular-season is done and that the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin with 24 teams, which he believes is the fairest format. He emphasized that health and safety of players is the top priorities.

The top-12 teams in each conference will be ranked by points percentage and each conference will be assigned a hub city (which will announced later), with secure hotels, arena, practice facilities, and in-market transportation provided. A maximum of 50 people per team can travel to each city, with a very small number of support staff allowed to go along.

The cities in contention to host games include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Vegas, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver. Only three of those cities are home to Eastern Conference teams.

Phase Two of the return to play plan, which allows players to skate in small groups of no more than six players, begins in early June. Training camps (Phase Three) will begin no earlier than July 1. The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Phase Four) dates have yet to be determined.


Since the League’s pause on March 12, the League has been in Phase 1 with teams having been instructed to self-isolate as much as possible.

Phase 2 – Early June
In early June, it is expected that teams will be permitted to return to home facilities for small group, voluntary, and on- and off-ice training.

Phase 3 – Not Earlier than First Half of July
Not earlier than first half of July, formal training camps will begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities.

Phase 4 – Timing TBD
24 teams in 2 “hub” cities will compete in Seeding Round Robins, a Qualifying Round and Conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Playoff Format

The top-four teams in each conference will play a round-robin while other teams participate in a play-in round, meaning the Capitals (third-best in the East) will play a game each against the Boston Bruins (first), Tampa Bay Lightning (second), and Philadelphia Flyers (fourth) with overtime and shootout tiebreakers. In the West, the St. Louis Blues (first), Colorado Avalanche (second), Vegas Golden Knights (third), and Dallas Stars (fourth) will compete against each other. The results will determine first-round seeding.

In the qualifying round, the remaining eight teams will play best-of-five series to advance to the first round with overtime as usual in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Each round will be determined by seeding.

The Eastern Conference best-of-five qualifying round matchups will feature:

  • #5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
  • #6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
  • #7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
  • #8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jacket

The Western Conference best-of-five qualifying round contests include:

  • #5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago Blackhawks
  • #6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes
  • #7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild
  • #8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets

The first and second rounds could be best-of-five or -seven (yet to be determined) and Bettman said that the hope is to get them wrapped up within a month.

Draft Process Outlined

Bettman outlined a two-phase plan for determining the order of the first three draft picks.

The Phase One draw will occur on June 26, before the NHL qualifying round begins. If the top three spots in the Phase One draw go to teams that did not participate in the playoffs, there will be no Phase Two draw.  Phase Two draws will take place between the qualifying and first rounds and would be used to determine how the eight teams that lose in the qualifying rounds are seeded. The Detroit Red Wings, who had secured last place in the NHL before the season paused, have an 18.5% chance at winning the draft lottery, the best in the NHL.

Bettman is optimistic that there will be a full 2020-21 season, though the season will start much later than usual.

The entire press conference:

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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