NHL releases playoff schedule as return-to-play plan, CBA extension approved

The NHL will officially resume Monday with formal training camps after a four-month hiatus because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Any player can opt out of the return-to-play plan for any reason without facing a penalty. Players will have 72 hours to notify their teams if they plan to opt out.

After two weeks of training camp, teams will travel to one of two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton) on July 26. A qualifying round will start Aug. 1 and include the 16 teams playing eight best-of-five series to determine who advances to what the league is calling the Stanley Cup playoffs. The four top seeds in each conference (including the Capitals in the East) will play a three-game round robin to determine seeding.

The playoffs, which will be best-of-seven series, are slated to start Aug. 11 and the conference finals Sept. 8. The Stanley Cup finals are tentatively slated to start Sept. 22, with Oct. 4 as the last possible day of the series.

The NHL and NHLPA agreed to the return-to-play format in late May after the pandemic abruptly halted the regular season in March. Under the expanded playoff format, 12 teams from each conference will be housed in hub cities, living in bubble-like environments and playing games without fans.

With the Eastern Conference teams playing in Toronto and the Western Conference in Edmonton, the conference finals and the Stanley Cup are also tentatively scheduled to be held in Edmonton. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that there will be two hotels for teams to stay in at both locations. The Capitals, who will be in Toronto, will stay in the same hotel as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Capitals will face the Bruins, Lightning and Flyers in the three-game round robin to determine seeding. The Capitals will play their first round-robin game Aug. 3 against the Lightning, then will face the Flyers on Aug. 6 and the Bruins on Aug. 8.

The NHL will kick off the playoffs with five games Aug. 1. The start times for the 10 days of Stanley Cup qualifiers in Toronto will be: noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern. In Edmonton, the start times will be 2 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Eastern. For statistical purposes only, all games from the 2020 qualifying rounds (round robin and qualifying rounds) are considered part of the 2020 postseason.

According to return-to-play protocols released earlier in the week, players will undergo daily coronavirus tests, symptom checks and temperature screenings while in the hub cities. If a player tests positive and is showing symptoms, he will be isolated immediately and must test negative twice at least 24 hours apart to be cleared to play. The player can also come out of isolation after a minimum of 10 days in self-isolation following the onset of symptoms if he has had no fever or respiratory symptoms for more than 72 hours.

For asymptomatic players, a confirmation test would be given and he would remain in isolation until producing two negative tests 24 hours apart, or for 10 days.

The NHL also announced that Phase 2 of the NHL draft lottery will take place between the qualifying rounds and the start of the first round Aug. 10. Phase 2 will assign the first overall pick for the 2020 draft to one of the eight qualifying-round teams that fail to advance. The 2020 draft is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10.

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