Examining Potential NHL Return-to-Play Timelines

Photo Credit: logodatabases.com

With Phase 2 of the NHL Return-to-Play plan starting today, many people are wondering what the timeline for the other two phases could be, and when next season might happen. I’m no insider, but I decided to try and figure one out myself. There are two dates being floated around as to Phase 3 (training camps open) could start- July 10th and August 1st. Training camps are likely to last for about three weeks, after which teams will head to their hub cities to begin the qualifying round. Based on these dates as starting points, I’ve come up with range scenarios as how this all might work out.

How I Built My Ranges

A few things before I get started. First off, I have no insider information, so these dates are purely educated guesses from me. Secondly, the way I have imagined all rounds will be structured is teams will be playing every other day. This includes the Cup Final, as it seems likely to me that it will occur in just one hub city, so that’s what I’ve planned for. I assume that two series from each hub will play on one day for the first two rounds, while the other two will go the following. But, I don’t know that for sure obviously, and it doesn’t really have an impact on my timelines.

Since I have teams playing every other day, I accounted for a three-day break between series to give the players a little breather to get ready for the next one. The ranges I made are from the earliest possible start date of each thing, which I calculated assuming all series go four games (three in the case of the qualifying), to the latest possible end date, which assumes that all series go seven games (five in the case of the qualifying round). It’s extremely unlikely that happens, but in building the range this way, they will definitely occur sometime between those dates. 

When it came to offseason planning, I planned for a six-eight week offseason. During normal years, it’s usually between two and three months. But, the players shouldn’t need as long off since by the end of it, they’ll have had around four months off between the time of the pause and the start of training camps. The draft usually occurs a week or two after the Cup Final, and free agency opens over a week after that, so I planned for those to happen around that time frames. Finally, I accounted for the 2020-21 season training camps lasting two weeks (although non-returning teams will probably get to start earlier), and the 2020-21 regular season starting a few days after the end of camp. 

Scenario 1

For Scenario 1, I chose the July 10th start date for training camps. Camps will last from July 10th to around the 28th, and the qualifying round would begin on August 1st. The reason for the gap between the end of camp and the beginning of the qualifying round is to allow teams to travel to their hub cities. But, three days is likely not enough time, and they won’t want to shorten training camps anymore, so this is the least likely scenario in my opinion.

However, there is still a chance it happens for a few reasons. The end of training camp could occur in the team’s hub city, as there is talk of preseason-esque games happening before the qualifying round starts. This would mean teams could settle into their hubs during training camp, which shortens and possibly eliminates the gap needed between the end of camp and the start of the qualifying round. It would also make it so training camps don’t have to be shortened by much, if at all.

Moving on from that, the qualifying round would occur between August 1st and the 10th. Then, round one would be sometime August 10th-27th. Next, round two would occur between August 21st-September 13th. Then, the conference finals would be anywhere from Septemeber 1st-28th. Following the conclusion of the third round, there would be about a one-week break, which is normal even in regular years, as one of the teams travels to the other hub city and both teams prepare for the Cup Final. Then, the Stanley Cup Final would happen sometime between September 13th and October 17th. 

The draft would then be sometime between October 2nd-24th. Free agency would open somewhere between October 12th-November 1st. Next, the 2020-21 season training camps would open between November 7th-December 12th. Finally, the 2020-21 regular season would kick off sometime in the range of November 21st-December 28th.

Scenario 2:

Scenario 2 is the best one in my opinion. It sees training camps kicking off on July 10th and ending on the 31st. The qualifying round then starts on August 7th. Teams would get a three-week training camp, which is what they want, and a week to travel to their hub cities, settle in, and prepare. This would allow them to get back up to speed more than a shortened training camp and to get more comfortable in their hubs than just a few days to travel and settle in would. It also occurs in an earlier timeframe then Scenario 3, which means it’ll be less disruptive to next season, which is the goal.

The qualifying round would occur between August 7th-16th. Then, round one would be sometime between August 16th-September 2nd. Round two would run sometime in the August 27th-September 17th range. The conference finals would then be sometime September 7th-October 4th. After this, there would be a week-long break as one team travels to the other hub city. Then, the Cup Final would occur sometime September 21st-October 25nd.

We’d then see the draft held between October 2nd and October 30th. After the draft, free agency would kick off sometime October 12th-November 6th. Next up, we’d see the 2020-21 season training camps happen between November 8th-December 18th. Finally, the 2020-21 regular season would start sometime between November 22nd-January 1st, 2021.

Scenario 3:

Scenario 3 is the worst possible one in my opinion. In it, training camps don’t start until August 1st, and the qualifying round wouldn’t begin until August 22nd. It is the most disruptive to next season, as it could see it not start until mid-January. Because of this, I see the league trying to avoid it at all costs, but it’s certainly possible.

We’d see the qualifying round occur between August 22nd and the 31st. Then, round one would happen sometime August 31st-September 17th. Round two would then take place between September 11th and October 4th. Next, the conference finals would run sometime September 22nd-October 21st. Finally, following a week-long break, the Stanley Cup Final would occur between October 13th and November 9th. 

This scenario is likely to mean a tighter turn-around from the end of the playoffs to the draft and free agency. The entire offseason would likely be just six weeks, but I calculated the full range just in case. The shorter timeframes are because the league will want to minimize as much disruption to next season as possible, since this is already the most disruptive scenario. The draft would occur between October 23rd and November 20th. Free agency would then begin sometime November 1st-27th. Next, the 2020-21 season training camps would happen sometime in the range of November 30th to January 1st. The 2020-21 regular season would then begin between December 16th and January 15th.

Closing Thoughts:

As you can see, the deeper we get into Phase 4, the more uncertain the timeframe is. This is because there’s more potential variation due to the previous series the further we get into it. But, I hope this helps give people a clearer idea of the timeframe we can expect the return-to-play plan to occur in, as well as clarity as to just how disruptive it could be to next season.

Ideally, the league will want to begin next season no later than sometime in December. But, Bettman has said he’s willing to start later if necessary. If the league is able to start in December, they will be able to salvage most, if not all, of next season, without extending too far beyond their normal time frame. This is provided they condense the schedule a bit and take out the bye week and All-Star break, which they almost surely will. But, we’ll have to wait and see how everything else shakes out before we need to start discussing that. All of this is still (at least) over a month away, but at least now we can take comfort in the fact that Phase 2 has started and it’s extremely likely we’ll have summer hockey.

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

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