The NHL season remains on pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak but there's reason to be optimistic about the league's chances of resuming in the next few months. According to TSN's Frank Seravalli, the league sent a memo to players and teams on Wednesday saying that things could pick back up sometime in May.
According to the league's release, teams could begin re-opening facilities and training in mid-to-late May, barring any unexpected setbacks. That timeline is contingent on coronavirus trends continuing in a positive direction. Players stationed outside of their club's home city may soon begin returning but, for now, they are being told to remain in isolation.
In memo to players and teams today, #NHL says it "may be able - provided we continue to trend favorably" move to Phase 2 and open facilities in "mid-to-later portion of May."— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) April 29, 2020
Players currently outside of club city should "consider whether to plan to return to their Club cities."
The league has reportedly been targeting a late June-early July window for when they can resume competitive dates, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saying they would need at least three weeks of training camp before that restart. The mid-to-late May entry into Phase 2 would seemingly keep that timeline intact.
The league offered a public statement on Wednesday night.
"Despite numerous reports and speculation over the last several days, the NHL and the NHLPA have not made any decisions or set a timeline for possible return to play scenarios," said the NHL and NHLPA in a joint statement. "Given recent developments in some NHL Clubs' local communities, we are now looking ahead to a Phase 2 of the transition period that would follow the currently recommended Phase 1 period of "self-quarantine" by Players and Hockey Staff.
"The precise date of transition to Phase 2, during which Players might return to small group activities in NHL Club training facilities, remains undetermined. However, provided that conditions continue to trend favorably – and, subject to potential competitive concerns as between disparately situated markets – we believe we may be able to move to Phase 2 at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May. Specific guidelines governing Player and Hockey Staff activity would be provided at that time. In the meantime, we expect Players and Hockey Staff to continue to adhere to the recommended guidelines put in place when the season was paused on March 12."
And while there's still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and its trends, there's also plenty of uncertainty surrounding what a possible NHL restart could look like. The league still has plenty of details to figure out before it potentially resumes play.
The NHL is reportedly prioritizing playing the regular season (most teams have around a dozen games remaining on their schedule) to some sort of conclusion before starting a postseason. If that is the case, it's likely the league would need to play an abbreviated or altered format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Recent reported proposals have included four league cities (presumably spread across the United States and Canada) playing host playoff "tournaments." According to Sportsnet's Mark Spector, the most popular idea among players is a 24-team playoff format:
The Top 6 teams from each Division meet in one city. They would open with best-of-three series between the No. 1 and 2 seeds (to decide a Division winner), while No. 3 meets 6 and 4 meets 5 for the right to keep playing.
It's a bold idea that would reward lower-level teams in weaker divisions. With the current standings at the pause, the proposed format would open up postseason bids to teams like the Anaheim Ducks (.472 points percentage) and Buffalo Sabres (.493) while shutting out the New York Rangers (.564) and Chicago Blackhawks (.514).
There seems to be increasing optimism that playoff hockey will be on the horizon this summer but it is growing increasingly clear that it won't be the typical postseason hockey we're used to.