NHL agrees Return to Play plan as hub cities chosen

The NHL has ratified plans to resume play on August 1 at centralised hubs in the Canadian cities of Toronto and Edmonton after the ice hockey league and the NHL Players’ Association gave the green light for a four-year extension of their collective bargaining agreement.

Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return Play Plan will begin today (Monday) as training camps can begin in teams’ local markets. On July 26, 12 Eastern Conference teams will head to Toronto and 12 Western Conference teams will travel to Edmonton, where play will begin on August 1 with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which will mark the start of Phase 4 of the resumption plan.

Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place will host as many as three games a day with a potential 52 games to be played over nine days during the qualifiers. No fans will be in attendance.

Sixteen teams will be paired in eight best-of-five series and a round-robin among the top four teams in points percentage in each conference to determine seeding for the playoffs. The advancing teams will then remain in Toronto and Edmonton for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Edmonton will host the Eastern Conference Final, Western Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final. The conference finals are tentatively scheduled to begin on September 8, with the Cup Final pencilled in to begin on September 22 and will end no later than October 4.

Teams will be housed in Phase 4 secure zones within the hub cities. The secure zones will feature hotels, restaurants, practice facilities and the host arenas. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers will play at their own arenas but the home advantage is set to be insignificant given the lack of fans.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said: “The Return to Play is going to be great once we get through it, once we get everybody in the bubble, and assuming everybody stays healthy. But this was much more than the Return to Play. It was about maintaining, stabilising during this time and focusing on (the) future of the game.”

The new CBA will run until the 2025-26 season, with Bettman stating that the deal marks a “significant agreement” that addresses the current uncertainty surrounding the sport, the framework for completing the season and the foundation for the continued growth of the league.

The CBA will allow the league and the players’ association to chart long-term plans for an international ice hockey calendar and events such as the winter Olympics, NHL All-Star Game, NHL Winter Classic and NHL Stadium Series.

The NHL season was suspended on March 12 due to COVID-19.

Image: Mack Male/Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)/Edited for size