May 26, 2020
Gary Bettman Announcement Transcript on NHL Return-to-Play Plan
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a full plan for the NHL returning today. Read the full transcript with details, including a new playoff format, hub cities, and details on the 2020 draft lottery.
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Gary Bettman: (00:00)
Good afternoon. I am delighted to be with you today to announce the National Hockey League’s plans for our resumption of play, the format of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and how we will conduct the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery. Before I get into the details, I want to make clear that the health and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff, and our communities are paramount. While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far, and will remain so. Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans are telling us in overwhelming numbers that they want us to complete the season, if at all possible. And our players, and our teams are clear that they want to play, and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.
Gary Bettman: (00:57)
Although we are anxious to get back on the ice, we will not do anything until we are assured by medical professionals, and the relevant government authorities that it is safe and prudent to do. I want to thank Executive Director, Don Fehr, Special Assistant to the Executive Director, Mathieu Schneider, and all members of the NHL Players Association, particularly players, Ron Hainsey, Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele, John Tavares, and James van Riemsdyk who were part of our joint Return To Play committee. It took a great deal of collaborative effort to get where we are today. And their insight, input, wisdom and passion for our game and its traditions were essential to the process that produced the plan I’ll now outline.
Gary Bettman: (01:48)
I also want to thank Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, and league staff, and medical personnel who worked tirelessly to craft this plan. And the members of the NHL Board of Governors, who once again, put aside personal preferences to approve a plan that we believe is fair to all of the teams and our best option under the circumstances. It will enable the best playoffs in all of sports to honor our history and produce a champion worthy of claiming the most treasured trophy in all of sports.
Gary Bettman: (02:24)
Now to our Return To Play Plan. When the given go ahead from the medical experts and the relevant government authorities is given, 24 of our 31 teams will resume play, the top 12 in each conference as ranked by percentage points from our standings as they stood through the games of March 11th when we paused our season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining seven teams will enter the draft lottery, which I will discuss in detail later.
Gary Bettman: (02:59)
For purposes of nomenclature, record keeping, and NHL awards, the 2019-20 regular season has been deemed to be completed. We will resume play and conduct the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in two hub cities that will be identified and announced at a later date. One will be the site for the resuming Eastern Conference clubs. The other will play host to the resuming Western Conference clubs. Each will have secure arenas, practice facilities, hotels, and local transportation for our players, coaches and essential staff.
Gary Bettman: (03:40)
We expect that our clubs will be permitted to travel a maximum of 50 personnel to their hub city. A very limited number of support staff will be able to access the event level at each venue. Comprehensive system of testing will be in place in each hub city. We are currently in phase one of our pause during which clubs have been instructed to self-isolate as much as possible and have done so. In early June, we expect to be able to enter phase two during which clubs can return to their individual practice facilities for voluntary small group on and off ice training. Yesterday we released a comprehensive protocol that will govern how we will operate in phase two.
Gary Bettman: (04:31)
Phase three of our Return To Play Plan will be the opening of formal training camps. The timing of our entry into phase three, again, will be determined by guidance from medical and civil authorities. While we are anxious to open camps as soon as possible, we don’t envision doing so before the first half of July.
Gary Bettman: (04:54)
Finally, when appropriate, we will move to phase four in which our participating clubs will report to their respective hub cities, and we will resume play. Obviously, we anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall. At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances and the needs of our players. For various reasons, we are also not announcing at this time which two cities will serve as our hubs. Things are evolving rapidly. And when we decide on locations, we want it to be on the best available information at the time that we need to make that determination.
Gary Bettman: (05:41)
In the meantime, I can say we have narrowed the choices to a number of cities that as of today include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver. There are no shortage of candidates that can help us do this. Again, the final determination will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing availability and government regulations.
Gary Bettman: (06:12)
The top four teams in each conference will claim automatic births in the first round of the playoffs. They will play intra-conference Round Robins, each playing the other three teams to determine their respective seeds in the first round. These games will be played with regular season overtime and shootout rules with ties in the final standings broken by regular season points percentage. The remaining eight teams in each conference will play in best of five qualifying rounds series to determine which four in each conference advance to the first round of the playoffs. The match-ups for these series again are based on points percentage at the time of the pause. These games will be played with playoff overtime rules.
Gary Bettman: (07:00)
Once the Round Robins and qualifying rounds are completed, we will conduct conference-based playoffs in each hub city. The winners of the qualifying Round Robins will advance to the first round with each opposing one of the Round Robin teams. Since we have endeavored to be sensitive to players preferences, the match-ups for the first round series remain to be set as the Return To Play committee is still discussing whether to determine them through seeding or via a bracket.
Gary Bettman: (07:32)
In addition, the Return To Play committee is still discussing the lengths of the first and second round series, and whether the second round match-ups will be determined through seeding or via bracket. In any scenario, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be best of seven. The sights of the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup final remain to be determined. Although based on what we know today, we expect those series to be played in one of the two hub cities. We believe we can get the qualifying and first two rounds of the playoffs completed in little over a month.
Gary Bettman: (08:10)
Here are the 12 teams that will be resuming play in the Eastern Conference and assigned to hub city one. These are the 12 clubs that will be resuming play in the Western Conference and assigned to hub city two. In the Eastern Conference, the top four teams by points percentage at the time of the pause who will play Round Robin games to determine their playoff seeding are the Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington capitals, and the Philadelphia Flyers. The qualifying round series match-ups in the Eastern conference are as follows. Number five, Pittsburgh Penguins versus number 12, Montreal Canadians. Number six, Carolina Hurricanes versus number 11, New York Rangers. Number seven, New York Islanders versus number 10, Florida Panthers. And number eight, Toronto Maple Leafs versus number nine, Columbus Blue Jackets.
Gary Bettman: (09:21)
In the Western Conference, the top four teams by points percentage at the time of the pause who will play Round Robin games to determine their playoff seeding are the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars. The qualifying round series match-ups in the Western Conference are as follows. Number five, Edmonton Oilers versus number 12, Chicago Blackhawks. Number six, Nashville Predators versus number 11, Arizona Coyotes. Number seven, Vancouver Canucks versus number 10, Minnesota Wild. And number eight, Calgary Flames versus number nine, Winnipeg Jets.
Gary Bettman: (10:04)
Now to the 2020 NHL Draft lottery. This is a bit complicated as if what I’ve already told you hasn’t been, and I apologize for that. The draft lottery will determine which clubs make the first three selections in the 2020 NHL Draft, and it will be conducted in one or two phases, depending upon the results of the various draws. The seven clubs that did not resume play, and the eight qualifying round clubs that do not advance into the playoffs, will enter the draft lottery. At the time of the first phase draws, we won’t know which eight teams won’t advance from the qualifying round.
Gary Bettman: (10:50)
So we have designated temporary placeholders with the odds that the collective group would have had. Phase one draws will be conducted on June 26th, prior to the Round Robins and qualifying round. There will be three separate draws to determine which clubs possessed the first, second and third overall selections in the 2020 NHL Draft. Each will include the seven non-resuming clubs and eight placeholder teams that have not yet won a draw. If any draw is won by one of the seven non-resuming teams, that club or the club to which that first round pick was traded, gets that selection. If all three draws are won by non-resuming clubs, there will be no need for a phase two. Should any of the three draws not be won by a non-resuming club, we will conduct a phase two before the conference quarterfinals. At that point, the assignment of the remaining top three selections will be determined through draws, including only the qualifying round clubs that failed to advance.
Gary Bettman: (12:10)
For any and all phase two draws, all teams involved will have the same odds of winning. Once the top three selections are determined. All remaining clubs will be slotted in reverse order of their 2019-20 points percentage. Let me give you some explanation. The format was adopted in order to maintain the distribution of lottery winning odds that were in place entering the 2019-20 season. In other words, teams that do not resume play have the same odds of claiming one of the top three selections as they would have had if the 2019-20 schedule had been completed. You can see those odds here. As previously stated, all clubs involved in any phase two draw as a group will have the same odds of winning. For a possible first of such draws, each club would have 12 and a half percent chance of winning, one in eight, which means each of the losing clubs in the qualifying round would have in effect a 3 percent chance of winning the first overall pick.
Gary Bettman: (13:23)
Obviously, these are extraordinary and unprecedented times. Any plan for the resumption of play by definition cannot be perfect. And I am certain that depending on which team you root for, you can find some element of this package that you might prefer to be done differently. But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams, that as a practical matter, might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused, and this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion will have run the post-season gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.
Gary Bettman: (14:07)
Let me reiterate. While we are hopeful, it is our goal that we will be able to resume play and award the Stanley Cup. We intend to do so within a timeframe that will enable us to get back to a full calendar for the 20-21 season. At the same time, we remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel. 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.
Gary Bettman: (14:45)
As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day, particularly for NHL fans. Since March 12th, we have been hopeful and optimistic that by developing all options and alternatives, we could get to this point. I know I join sports fans everywhere when we say we cannot wait for our players to hit the ice again. And I look forward to the greatest privilege of all, presenting the most storied and coveted trophy in all of sports to the captain of the 2019-20 Stanley Cup champions. Thank you.