Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images
Hockey is back.
The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association ratified the league’s return to play plan and a four-year extension of the current collective bargaining agreement, pushing forward the resumption of the 2019-20 season with training camp on Monday.
The Vegas Golden Knights will be one of the 24 teams taking part in the season’s restart. Vegas is currently slated as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and will play in a round robin to determine seeding for the field of 16 to play for the Stanley Cup.
The season has been on pause since March 12 due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.
“While we have all worked very hard to try to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities,” said commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “We know that all of our fans are excited about our return to the ice next month and that has been our goal since we paused our season on March 12.”
The other 16 teams will play in best-of-5 matchups with the winners advancing to the formal round of 16, best-of-7 series.
The return to play plan also formalized what has been expected; the hub cities will be Toronto and Edmonton. The Western Conference will set up shop at Rogers Arena, while the Eastern Conference will play out its games at Scotiabank Arena.
Five games will begin the slate on Aug. 1 and most days will see as many as six games (Aug. 3). The start times in Edmonton will be 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. PT, and Toronto’s games will start at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. PT.
Teams will bring a maximum of 31 players to their respective hub cities. As previously reported, the understanding has been 31 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies. At the time of writing, that was not made official.
At the time of the NHL’s pause, the Golden Knights were named Pacific Division champions for the second time in three seasons. Vegas will go into the round robin with a healthy roster, much like every other team, but the Golden Knights might benefit the most from the near-four-month hiatus. Mark Stone had been out with a lower-body injury since late February and was in danger of missing the start of the playoffs had the season went on. The same goes for Max Pacioretty, who was ruled out with a lower-body injury before what would’ve been Vegas’ next game against the Minnesota Wild. Alex Tuch had also been out since Feb. 13 with a lower-body injury.
All three are 100 percent and are expected to be available when camp opens Monday.
All teams participating in the return to play are considered a playoff team, therefore the Golden Knights will be awarded a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft by way of the Winnipeg Jets in the trade involving forward Cody Eakin. The Jets, the No. 8 seed, will play the Calgary Flames in a best-of-5 matchup.
“This agreement is a meaningful step forward for the players and owners, and for our game, in a difficult and uncertain time. This would not have happened but for the enormous contributions that the players made throughout, particularly those who served on the Negotiating and Return to Play Committees, as well as those on the Executive Board,” said NHLPA executive director Don Fehr in a statement. “I also thank Gary Bettman, [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly and the NHL staff for their efforts towards finding solutions to the problems we face. Most importantly, we are pleased to be able to bring NHL hockey back to the fans. We look forward to the NHL’s continued growth here in North America and on the world stage.”
The official round-of-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin Aug. 11. The last possible date for the Stanley Cup Final is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 4, while the NHL Draft is expected to be held Oct. 9-10.