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Coyotes to play Predators in playoff qualifier once NHL resumes

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2018, file photo, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference at the Board of Governors annual meeting in Sea Island, Ga. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the formal announcement Tuesday that the league has identified a return-to-play structure to finish the 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes, the 11th seed, will play sixth-seeded Nashville in the expanded play-in structure.

The format involves a 24-team tournament and excludes the league’s bottom seven clubs, who will turn their focus to the draft lottery. It does not specify a date to resume play or the location, but Bettman did say the league expected to have two hub cities to host the games.

The top 12 teams in each conference as ranked by points percentage as of March 12 will qualify for the 24-team tournament. The top four teams in each conference will play round-robin tournaments to determine seeding. The rest of the teams will play best-of-five series. After that, a 16-team playoff will commence.

Formal training camps will open no sooner than July 1.

Bettman said the decision is not a guarantee that games are coming back. The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association must still figure out health and safety protocols and solve other issues, including where to play.

Still, ironing out a format represents significant progress since global sports were basically shut down in March as the coronavirus outbreak turned into a pandemic. Bettman has said the goal has always been to play again and award the Stanley Cup, but details remain uncertain and there is no announced timetable of any kind.

“The 2019-20 regular season has been deemed completed,” Bettman said.

“We believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that as a practical matter might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused. And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”

Bettman said a list of candidates from which the league will likely choose its two hub cities has been narrowed to Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

“There are no shortage of candidates that can help us do this,” Bettman said. “Again, the final determination will depend on COVID-19 conditions, testing availability and government regulations.

Each of the two hub cities will have secure arenas, practice facilities, hotels and transportation. Each team will be able to bring about 50 personnel to hub cities, and only a limited number will be allowed at ice level in the arena.

A comprehensive testing system will in place in the hub cities.

The site of the Stanley Cup Final is to be determined, but the expectation is it will be in a hub city.

“The healthy and safety of our players, coaches, essential support staff and our communities are paramount. While nothing is without risk, ensuring healthy and safety has been essential to all of our planning so far and will remain so.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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