NHL Announces Return to Play, Draft Lottery Format

The NHL announced today that they will be resuming the 2019-20 season in the form of the playoffs. It will be the 24-team format with the 16-team play-in round that was discussed earlier.

One change does see the top four teams in each conference playing a round-robin mini-tournament to determine seeding in the second round. This part is different from the original proposal and will help keep those teams with a bye in the first round in game shape.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recorded a video outlining the whole system and thanking the NHLPA and its head Don Fehr for helping them get to this point. He also mentioned that the health and safety of all those involved were and “are paramount” in this whole thing. He said that they are resuming because the fans and players wanted it, although I suspect that the relaxing of some of the health guidelines in various jurisdictions might have played a stronger part in that.

As for the logistics, Tom Gulitti of NHL.com ran those down. The Qualifying and Seeding Round Robin (the first round) “will be held at two hub cities to be identified – one for the 12 participating Eastern Conference teams and one for the 12 Western Conference teams – and begin at a date to be determined.” Gulitti listed the candidate cities as: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

Gulitti quoted the Bettman video when he said that “the decision on the hub cities and when the Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations. A comprehensive system for testing will be in place in each hub city. Each team will be permitted to travel a maximum of 50 personnel, including players, coaches and staff, to its hub city.”

In this situation, the Devils, Sabres, Ducks, Kings, Sharks and Senators each kind of get the shaft here. They were never officially eliminated from playoff contention, but were realistically not going to make it. Only the Red Wings, eliminated back in February, were officially out.

Their season now turns to the Draft. And since this is a Devils-centric blog, that is really what we should be talking about anyway. The 2020 Draft Lottery Drawing will include 15 teams according to Gulitti in a separate article on NHL.com.

They will be the seven teams already on the outside (including the Devils) plus the eight teams that lose in the Qualifying Round. The first phase will take place on June 26.

The lottery will bet held “based on 3-6 drawings over one or two phases.” Phase one will see the teams who did not qualify plus “eight placeholder positions” get three drawings on June 26, which Gulitti points out, is before the Qualifying Round.

The odds for the teams like the Devils who did not qualify for the playoffs “were determined by their point percentage during the 2019-20 regular season” since not everyone finished with the same total of games played.

The eight placeholder spots will be held for the teams who will be eliminated in round one of the playoff format.

Gulitti said that the first drawing in phase one will tell us who gets the first pick in the Draft. Drawing two will determine the second pick and drawing three will determine who picks third overall.

He continued to say that “if a team not in the bottom seven wins any of the first three drawings, a Second Phase will be conducted among the eight teams eliminated in the Qualifying Round. That would take place between the end of the Qualifying Round and the first round of the playoffs.”

If each of the first three First Phase picks are won by one of the teams on the outside of the playoffs, Gulitti notes that the Second Phase would not be necessary and the picks four through seven would be assigned to the remaining non-layoff teams “in inverse order of their regular-season point percentage, and picks 8-15 will be assigned to the teams that are eliminated from the Qualifying Round in inverse order of their point percentage.”

He also said that if “a Qualifying Round losing team wins one or two of the top three picks, any bottom-seven team not in the top three will be assigned their pick in inverse order of point percentage.”

If a Qualifying Round team wins all three of the top picks, picks four through ten will go to teams “in inverse order of their point percentage.”

A Second Phase and the number of drawings in it would depend on the number of picks won in the First Phase by the Qualifying Round teams.

As Ottawa General Manager Pierre Dorian said in April (as quoted in Tom Gulitti’s story): “We did our homework, and in this plan of the rebuild [talking about the Senators] we always felt that this 2020 draft would be one of the deepest that’s come along in many years.”

The Devils currently stand with a 7.5-percent chance to win the first overall pick. They finished with a .493 regular season points percentage.

Gulitti did note that “New Jersey received better lottery odds than Buffalo because it had a worse regulation/overtime winning percentage (.348 compared to Buffalo’s .406).”

The Detroit Red Wings currently stand with the best odds to win the Alexis Lafreniere sweepstakes, ending the season with a .275 points percentage, giving them an 18.5 chance of gaining the first overall pick.

Of the teams who qualified for the playoffs in the play-in round, Montreal has the best odds in the drawing, should they lose in the first round of the playoffs. They finished with a .500 points percentage.