ST. LOUIS — So, we now know what hockey is going to look like if and when it returns following the pause in the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it official on Tuesday. The 2019-2020 regular season is over, and when play resumes, we'll see a 24-team playoff for the Stanley Cup.
But what will the road for a St. Louis Blues repeat look like? Let's break it down.
First off, the Blues finished the season as the Central Division champions and with the most points in the Western Conference. Now, usually that would mean they'd be the top seed in the playoffs. This year, not so much.
The Blues, along with the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars are the top four teams in the west. So, they'll now have to play each other in a round robin format to determine which seeds they'll be. These games will be played with regular season overtime and shootout rules. The team with the best record in the round robin, will get the top seed, and so on. Any ties in the standings of the round robin will be broken by regular season points percentage (so good news for the Blues there).
The Western Conference teams that finished in the numbers 5 through 12 spots during the regular season will face off in a best-of-five play-in series to advance to the actual first round. Playoff overtime will apply in these games.
From there, there is still a bit to be determined. The length and format of the first and second round series is still to be determined. Bettman said the Conference and Stanley Cup Final, though, will be seven-game series.
But, it's guaranteed the Blues will be playing one of these teams in their first actual series: Edmonton, Nashville, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Arizona or Chicago.
This video from the NHL breaks down the sometimes complicated plan in an understandable way.
The NHL has also announced that there will be two "hub cities" where play will take place. One will be for Western Conference teams and the other for Eastern Conference teams.
St. Louis did not make the list of 10 possible sites the NHL released on Tuesday. Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver are the sites the league has narrowed down the hub city list to. They expect to announce the two cities in the coming weeks. The Stanley Cup Final is expected to be played in one of the hub cities as well.
In terms of timing, that is still up in the air as well.
The NHL is hoping to move to their Phase 2 in early June, with players resuming non-contact skating at team facilities. The 24-team playoff is Phase 4. Bettman said he expects the season to end up going into much of the summer.
So, to recap from a Blues perspective:
- Blues win the 2019-2020 Central Division and finish with most points in the conference
- Blues will play a round robin with Colorado, Vegas and Dallas to determine seeding/bracketing in first round, with regular season points percentage breaking ties
- St. Louis will not be one of the two hub cities for playoff play