The National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans to determine a 2020 Stanley Cup champion on Tuesday, should the league be able to resume play.
After the COVID-19 outbreak, the NHL suspended its 2020 season back on March 12.
If action does return to the ice this year, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves with an unusual opportunity to still contend for the championship despite being five points out of eighth place with 12 games to play.
NHL lays out 24-team postseason plan
The NHL is billing is as a Return to Play Plan. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday that if the league is able to get back to action this summer, they will resume with 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup.
The format features 12 teams in the Eastern Conference and 12 teams in the Western Conference contending for the cup. The top four teams in each conference will play in a round-robin format against one other to determine the top four seeds.
The remaining eight in each conference will play in a best-of-five series depending on their seeding. The No. 5 seed will face the No. 12 seed, and so on.
Qualifying round matches and round-robin seeding games will be held at one of two hub city locations. Each hub will host a respective conference.
Blackhawks considered a Stanley Cup longshot
The Blackhawks just made the cut for the NHL’s postseason plan. Chicago ranks 12th in the Western Conference right now with 72 points over 70 games. The Blackhawks posted a 32-38-8 record prior to the stoppage of the season.
According to oddsmakers at FanDuel, Chicago comes in with the longest odds to win the Stanley Cup, as they are listed at +10,000. Only the Montreal Canadiens odds as long as Chicago. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lighting stand as the current favorites with +600 odds. William Hill also sees Chicago as a +10,000 longshot.
Oilers await in the postseason
The Blackhawks will be matched up against the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round series. Edmonton posted 83 points this season with a 37-25-9 record.
This matchup proved to be favorable for Chicago during the season, the Blackhawks won two of three from the Oilers.
Chicago grabbed a 3-1 victory on Oct. 14 and a 4-3 victory on March 5 in a pair of games at home. The lone trip to Edmonton resulted in a 5-3 loss on Feb. 11.
Comparing numbers, Chicago doesn’t seem too far off Edmonton in terms of production. The Blackhawks put up 212 goals this season and allowed just 218. The Oilers tallied 225 goals while giving up 217 over a total of 71 games.
It is not expected for fans to be in attendance for the 2020 postseason games. However, Chicago may still get another break as part of this new playoff plan.
According to NHL.com, Chicago is one of 10 cities the NHL is considering to be a host city for the playoffs. Other cities in consideration are:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
No guarantee on a playoff happening
While a plan has been put in place for a return, the NHL wouldn’t commit to definitely returning and finishing up the 2020 season.
According to Bettman, the decision on when play will resume and which cities will play host to the games will depend on testing ability and government regulations as it pertains to COVID-19.
Comprehensive testing will be in place at each hub city. Teams will be allowed to travel with a maximum of 50 members, which includes players, coaches, and staff.
“Obviously, we anticipate playing over the summer and into the early fall,” Bettman told NHL.com. “At this time, we are not fixing dates because the schedule of our return to play will be determined both by developing circumstances and the needs of the players.”