In a highly-anticipated announcement from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, there’s more clarity in the return-to-play plan for the NHL and the Nashville Predators.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced yesterday that the NHL is going forward with the 24-team plan, which will pit the Nashville Predators against the Arizona Coyotes in a play-in series.
There’s still so much uncertainty in the NHL returning to action, but there’s at least a plan rolled out now to get back to get back to the rink.
For the Nashville Predators, they have their first opponent to start preparing for. With no set dates in place, there will be ample amounts of time to scout and gameplan.
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Coaching impact and strategy is really going to shine through all of this with all of the preparation times and unique challenges that are laid out in “Phase Two” of the NHL’s plan.
Takeaways from the Commissioner
Some of the initial speculation regarding the 24-team format was confirmed. There will indeed be 24 teams in competition for the Stanley Cup, but there’s nothing simple about this plan.
The NHL is checking every box necessary to make this plan roll out smoothly. They deserve a lot of kudos for that.
What’s not clear after the big announcement is exact dates for when things will take place. There’s general time periods for when things should start, like starting actual play in the end of July according to Bettman, per NHL.com:
"“I think that it’s conceivable that we’re playing at the end of July. It could be the beginning of August and then playing into September. So somewhere around that time frame.”"
A lot of this hinges on when players can actually start ramping up their training procedures as things open back up in a more widespread fashion.
Then there’s the selection of the two hub cities, which weren’t officially announced yesterday. However, there is a short list of cities being considered, per Devin Heroux of CBC News:
As things hopefully continue to trend in a positive direction, those cities will be announced in short order. We do know that they’re still thinking two cities, when initially some were speculating up to four hub cities.
However, Bettman left it open as a fluid situation regarding the hub cities and how many may end up being selected in three to four weeks.
Another big takeaway is it’s not going to be straight-up bracket play. Or at least it’s not been decided that it will be yet.
The idea of the top-four teams in each conference playing a round robin style format to determine seeding is an interesting way to go about it. This is giving those teams the chance to play and get into game shape just like the teams in the play-in round.
It’s still being decided on how the seeding will go after the play-in round is completed. The play-in round will be a best-of-five series, so there’s not any room to stumble out of the gate.
Finally, another big development is the status of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. It’s now going to be held after the season is completed, while the first phase of the NHL Draft Lottery will be conducted on June 26th.
It’s important to clarify that there is no guarantee that the season will resume. This is the NHL having a complex plan in place assuming everything keeps trending in the right direction on the health front.
What it means for the Nashville Predators
They have new life. There was no guarantee by any stretch of the imagination that they were going to make the playoffs if the regular season went on as normal.
Some teams were cruising right along, and now have to find that fire again. That’s a tough challenge on its own.
Yes, the Predators were playing much better hockey. They got a huge two-game sweep over the Dallas Stars. Going into that two-game set, a split seemed like the best-case scenario.
Instead, Juuse Saros was more effective than a brick wall would’ve been, and the Predators earned the No.6 seed in this 24-team format.
The Coyotes are a favorable draw for the Predators to open up with. They’re not loaded with forward talent, while the Predators have plenty of playoff veterans who know how to win in high-pressure postseason situations.
The two teams split their season series 1-1, with Nashville winning the most recent game in December by a score of 3-2. Goals were scored by Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Roman Josi, with Pekka Rinne making 26 saves.
As I mentioned earlier, this is going to come down to coaching and preparation. Under normal times you have just a few days to really prepare for a playoff opponent, but now you could have up to two months to plan for one opponent.