NHL Return to Play Plan FAQs

The 2019-2020 NHL season was paused on March 12th due to the corona virus pandemic. Since then the NHL has cancelled the remainder of the regular season and submitted their Return to Play Plan. On Tuesday, the NHL Players’ Association announced that its executive committee has approved the tentative collective bargaining agreement and return-to-play plan to restart the 2019-20 season.

What does that mean for the NHL playoffs to kick off? Well first and foremost, it is worth mentioning that nothing is guaranteed. Further outbreak of COVID-19 could derail any plans to conclude the 2019-20 playoffs and award the Stanley Cup. Having said that, so far the stars are aligning on the return of NHL hockey in 2020.

Hockey Puck on Snowy Ice

NHL Return to Play Frequently Asked Questions

When are training camps scheduled to begin?
Training camps will formally open to launch Phase 3 July 13.

Have the hub cities been officially announced?
While the NHL has not made an official announcement (at the time of this writing), reputable sources suggest that Toronto and Edmonton will be chosen as the hub cities.

When will teams report to the hub cities?
Teams will travel to the (unofficially announced) hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto, July 26.

Will the hub city teams be allowed to play in their home rink?
Yes, barring any changes the host team will be playing in their home rinks. For example if Toronto and Edmonton are confirmed as the host cities, then Toronto will host the Eastern Conference games while Edmonton will host the Western Conference games.

When will the actual games start?
The qualifying round of the 24-team play-in tournament will commence Aug. 1.

What happens if a player test positive for COVID-19?
The NHL has outlined protocol in their protocol for Phase Three and Phase Four of their Return to Play Plan. Item 4 in the Phase Three protocol states:

“A person whose COVID-19 positive status has been confirmed shall remain in isolation, shall not exercise, and shall not participate in any Club activity or have any contact (other than remotely) with any other personnel for the duration of their isolation.
During such period, the person shall be in daily contact with and receive remote care from Club medical staff or such other physicians as considered appropriate.”

Official Phase 3 Document – NHL.com

Official Phase 4 Document

Do players have the option of opting out of participating in the Playoffs?
Players can opt out without discipline or penalty if they notify their teams within 72 hours of the CBA’s ratification.

Will fans be allowed to attend games?

Will players have to wear masks or face coverings?

  • Players are not required to wear face coverings when they are exercising or on the ice
  • Coaches are not required to wear face coverings when on the bench
  • Broadcasters are not required to wear face coverings when they are on the air
  • On-Ice Officials are not required to wear face coverings during games

Will there still be body contact?
Yes, players are allowed to engage in full contact during drills that require it but must remain six feet apart from each other during any other interactions in team facilities and are discouraged from having social contact away from club facilities.

Will teams carry full rosters?
Rosters will be capped at 31 players including goalies. In total, including ownership, executives, coaches, hockey operations and training staff, each team can bring a maximum of 52 people inside the Secure Zones. Teams will be allowed a maximum of 52 people per team, including on and off-ice members.

How were the qualifying teams decided?
The 12 qualifying teams from the Eastern and Western conferences were determined by points percentage as of March 12, 2020. Seven teams did not qualify.

Why is the NHL having a play-in tournament?
As there were teams that were on the fringe of playoffs, the NHL was attempting to make it fair for teams who had not been officially eliminated from playoff contention at the time of the pause in the regular season.

What are the play-in tournament matchups?
The top four teams in each division will have a bye in the play-in tournament and will play each other to determine seeding in the first round of the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia will receive the bye. In the Western Conference, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas will receive the byes. The play-in matchups in the Eastern Conference consist of:

  • Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
  • New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
  • Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders
  • Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The play-in matchups in the Western Conference consist of:

  • Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
  • Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
  • Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks
  • Winnipeg Jets vs. Calgary Flames

Additional details available at NHL.com

Will there be exhibition games?
Each team will participate in one or two exhibition games that are set to begin on July 25th (subject to change).

When will the actual NHL Playoffs start?
TSN has reported the following tentative dates for the Return-to-Play tournament:

  • July 30: Qualification Round begins (we have also heard Aug. 1 as the start date)
  • August 9: First round of playoffs commence
  • August 23: Second round of playoffs begin
  • September 6: Conference Finals begin
  • September 20: Stanley Cup Finals commence
  • October 2: Last possible game of the Stanley Cup Finals

When will the NHL Draft take place?
The draft is set to take place after the completion of the Stanley Cup Finals. At the time of this writing, a tentative date of October 6 has been penciled in.

How will this impact the start of the 2020-21 NHL season?
This entirely depends on a number of factors including if the season can be completed, if there is a mass outbreak of COVID-19, when the NHL can complete key events such as the draft, free agency and training camps. Tentative dates for some of these events as listed in the NHL and NHLPA Memorandum include:

  • November 17: Opening of Training Camps for 2020-21
  • December 1: Opening of 2020-21 NHL Season

It remains to be seen if the National Hockey League can pull this off. The League is very motivated to award that Stanley Cup this season. In these unprecedented times, any team will have a chance to win it. However it’s more a matter of player and coaching staff safety as well as all of the people it will take to get this done. Unfortunately whomever should win the Stanley Cup may have an asterisk beside there name, which is not fair, because if there was ever a year that a Stanley Cup run would be even more grueling than ever, it would be this year.

NHL.com Phased Return to Sport Protocol