On Tuesday, the league, which was forced to pause its season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, released a memo Monday announcing it's targeting early next month as the start date for Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol, including the opening of practice rinks and allowing small, voluntary group workouts on and off the ice.
The top four teams in each conference will have a bye into the second round, while the bottom eight teams will compete in best-of-five qualifying-round series to fill out a more traditional eight-team conference bracket.
The NHLPA had said several details still needed to be negotiated, adding "an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play".
Instead of limiting the Cup chase to the usual 16 teams that qualify for the playoffs, the league and players agreed to expand the field to 24 of its 31 teams because of the unusual circumstances. Five members of the Ottawa Senators and three members of the Colorado Avalanche are known to have tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone who plans to visit a club training facility must undergo testing 48 hours in advance and receive a negative test result.
There is no information included in the document regarding training camps (Phase 3) and the resumption of play (Phase 4).
All personnel must be 6 feet apart while inside and outside of the facility. "In addition, Club Medical personnel may impose a 14-day quarantine on Players and permitted Personnel returning to the Club's home city from a high-risk environment, even if they are not traveling via public transportation". Massage therapists, agents, chiropractors, players' family members and media are among those prohibited from entering club facilities during Phase 2.
The NHL, which has worked closely with the NHL Players' Association on the phased approach, said that while it views the protocol as "very comprehensive".
Before reporting to a facility, players will self-administer symptom and temperature checks at home, and another check will be conducted at the entrance of the facility. Bettman said the hub cities have yet to be determined, but Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver are on the league's short list. "We are hopeful the return to play plan will allow us to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup in a manner in which the health and safety of our players, on-ice officials, team staff and associated individuals involved are paramount". Physical distancing will be required in the locker room and weight room. "Players are not required to wear face coverings when they are exercising or on the ice".
The 24-team plan would see the top-four clubs the Eastern and Western Conference play separate mini round-robin tournaments to determine seeding for the playoffs.