With training camps set to open shortly, the idea of live hockey is beginning to seem like more of a reality. While the players still must officially vote to approve the return to play plans, the NHL is all but ready to start the action on Aug. 1st. With details of the qualifying round rules, round robin games for top seeds, and the subsequent playoff structure all hammered out, there are very few questions remaining. Thanks to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, one of those unanswered questions is also no more: how so many games will be played in so short a time in just two locations.
According to McKenzie, the plan is to play three games a day at each of the hub locations, Toronto and Edmonton, for a total of six games. This will include both qualifying-round games and round-robin seeding games. These games will be held at the same times – 12 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m. – but offset by the two-hour time difference local time. On the East Coast, this means games will be on at noon, 2 p.m., 4.p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m., and 10 p.m., while on the West Coast things will get started a little earlier with games at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. As McKenzie points out, the possibility of extended overtimes in the qualifying round games could complicate this scheduling, but the league hopes to mitigate these risks by playing round-robin games, which have regular season OT rules, during the 4 p.m. slots to counteract early games that ran late and ensure prime time games start on time (or at least close to it).
At first glance, the amount of hockey that could be on display later this summer is exciting for fans who have been without the game for close to four months now. There will certainly be logistical issues with the scheduling of games and extended overtimes, but fans should be flexible with their schedules considering the affect that COVID-19 has had on typical summer plans. This should also extend to day games, with many people around North America still working from home and able to watch games that typically they might find themselves in the office during. While the Pacific time zone definitely received the worst deal in terms of the daily schedules, it is worth noting that only the Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights call that time zone home among 2020 playoff teams, while 75% of the field resides in the Eastern or Central time zones.
Hypothetically, this scheduling plan through the qualifying round and round-robin games, a minimum of 44 games and maximum of 68 games, should mean that those series are over and the standard playoff structure is set in no more than 12 days. It may not be pretty cramming so much action into such a short time frame, but if the league sticks to six games a day it will be able to start with the standard postseason by Aug. 13. This should allow the league to complete the postseason, award the Stanley Cup, and even host the 2020 NHL Draft before Nov. 1, which has been proposed as the opening of free agency for the 2020-21 season.