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Bettman defends NHL's expansion playoff format

Commissioner Gary Bettman stands by the NHL’s decision to admit 24 teams into the playoffs when action restarts this summer.

FILE PHOTO: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the ice hockey NHL Global Series match of the Florida Panthers vs Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland November 1, 2018. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS

With the regular season declared complete and 24 teams headed to the newly revised postseason, 77 percent of the league’s teams will be in the playoffs.

Speaking Monday on ESPN’s “The Return of Sports” special, Bettman said, “I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we’re going to run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players. The Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports.”

The top four teams in each conference, based on points per game played, are guaranteed berths in the playoffs’ round of 16. Those teams will conduct round robins to determine seeds No. 1 through No. 4 for each conference.

At the same time, the playoffs will commence with series in each conference pitting seeds No. 5 vs. No. 12, No. 6 vs. No. 11, No. 7 vs. No. 10, and No. 8 vs. No. 9.

“While the regular season was largely completed, we had a number of teams that were on the bubble,” Bettman said on ESPN. “And you know we have extraordinary competitive balance (in the NHL) and any of those teams that were on the bubble outside of the top 16 in each conference had a legitimate chance of making the playoffs, some more than others. And we decided we needed a play-in round to give those teams a chance to ultimately make the playoffs, and that’s going to be a best-of-five series.”

Following the opening round of the playoffs and the round robins involving the top teams, the remainder of the postseason will follow the traditional pattern: best-of-seven series in the round of 16, conference semifinals, conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final.

Training camps are tentatively set to open July 10, putting the league on track to start games in early to mid-August. Play will be held in two hub cities that have yet to be announced, with one widely expected to be Las Vegas.

Bettman said Canada’s current requirement of a 14-day quarantine period for those entering the country might prevent the league from putting a hub north of the border.

“We are working particularly with the Canadian government about determining how we can deal with moving from the training camp phase to a possible hub in Canada,” Bettman said. “Because obviously if the players would have to quarantine for 14 days in between training camp and going to the hub, that wouldn’t work.”

Once teams are in a hub city, daily COVID-19 tests would be administered.

“If there’s one positive test -- again, this will be under the strict guidance of the medical people -- that person will be isolated,” Bettman said. “And we’ll be monitoring anybody, through contact tracing, that was in close proximity. Obviously, for any sport, if you have a major outbreak, it’s going to change everything, but we’re being told that an isolated case or a couple of isolated cases shouldn’t interfere with the plans, and we should be able to move forward.”

Field Level Media

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