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Preds Part of NHL’s 24-Team Return To Play Plan

If the environment surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic allows it, the Nashville Predators and the rest of the world know exactly what the NHL’s return to play format entails.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman officially announced a Return To Play Plan on Tuesday afternoon, as the League looks to return to the ice in the months to come.

It should be noted these plans are not a confirmation there will be NHL hockey games this summer, as the League attempts to award the Stanley Cup at some point in 2020. However, this announcement is a positive sign the NHL is on the right track, and should conditions allow for the plan to be executed, the Predators, as well as 23 other teams, will have a chance at the sport’s ultimate prize.

“At the pause, we committed to resuming play only when appropriate and prudent,” Bettman said via release. “We are hopeful the Return To Play Plan will allow us to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup in a manner in which the health and safety of our players, on-ice officials, team staff and associated individuals involved are paramount. Accordingly, an essential component of the Plan is a rigorous, regular schedule of testing.

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“On the hockey side, the return-to-play format reflects the League’s extraordinary competitive balance, while honoring the tradition and integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“The Return To Play Plan is the result of weeks of constructive dialogue with the National Hockey League Players’ Association and we are grateful for their cooperation. We also thank our consulting health experts and the local, regional and national authorities who are helping steer us through a complex set of issues.”

The Return To Play Plan comes one day after the NHL released details for Phase 2 of the journey, which would allow players to begin voluntary, on-ice workouts in small groups in team facilities in the coming weeks. The League is hopeful to begin Phase 2 of the Return To Play Plan in early June.

Phase 3 would begin no sooner than the first half of July and would consist of training camps that would begin after guidance from medical and civil authorities.

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Finally, Phase 4 would come later in the summer, with 24 teams in two hub cities competing in Seeding Round Robins, a Qualifying Round and Conference-based Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 24-team format would see the Predators receive the sixth seed in the Western Conference – a ranking determined on the basis of point percentage at the pause of the NHL season on March 12 – and face the Arizona Coyotes in a best-of-5 series in the Qualifying Round of the plan.

The winner of that series would then move on to face one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference – St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas or Dallas – in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in either a best-of-5 or best-of-7 series (series length still to be determined).

Timing of the Return To Play format has not been announced and will be determined by a number of different factors in the weeks and months to come with the safety of all participants taking precedence, although the League is hopeful games could begin taking place by late July or early August.

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The Return To Play Plan would take place in two hub cities, which would be determined at a later date, but the hope is to make a decision within the next three to four weeks. The League listed 10 NHL cities that are being considered as a hub. Nashville is not one of those sites.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said players, coaches and other team personnel will continue to be tested for COVID-19 throughout the progression of phases, and those tests would be conducted every night during Phase 4 (resumption of games). Daly also stated if a single player were to test positive once games resume, he doesn’t envision the playoffs coming to a halt. However, the League does not want to start an outbreak, and if there were multiple positive tests at any point, plans would be re-evaluated.

The NHL does not anticipate having fans attend games in the Return To Play Plan, with Bettman adding things would have to change dramatically for those views to be reconsidered.

As for the 2020-21 NHL season, the commissioner said he believes the season will be played in its entirety, no matter when it starts. The focus is on completing games this summer, while realizing the next season could begin as late as December or January, if necessary. The commissioner is also hopeful fans would be able to attend games in 2020-21, but those factors will be determined by the virus and advice from medical authorities, as well as government entities.

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Also worth noting from Tuesday’s announcement, the 2019-20 NHL regular season has been deemed complete, and the 189 games that remained on the schedule will not be played. Therefore, the regular season statistics are final, meaning Preds Captain Roman Josi owns the final team lead in scoring with 65 points.

Josi, who is also in contention for the Norris Trophy as the League’s top defenseman, has finished second among all NHL blueliners in points, tied for second in goals (16), second in assists (49) and third in time-on-ice per game (25:47)

Filip Forsberg led the Preds with 21 goals, and netminders Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros finished with 18 and 17 wins, respectively. And, of course, Rinne also recorded his first-career goal.

Again, there are many more details that need to be worked out in the coming weeks and months, but the NHL is optimistic they will be able to follow through and enact the Return To Play Plan, which would culminate with the awarding of the Stanley Cup in 2020 – and the Predators would get a chance to win it all.

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