Potential formats for NHL season, playoffs after various lengths of coronavirus delay

A three-week postponement might mean a much different end-of-season plan than, say, a two-month postponement.

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The 2019-20 NHL season may look a lot different when it finally returns.

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It has been only two nights since the NHL postponed its 2019-20 season indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns, and 15 previously scheduled games already have been axed.

A lot more are on the way.

The NHL’s ‘‘preference is for a short break,’’ TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Thursday, with day-by-day evaluation for when the season might be able to resume.

But the NHL has no control over the severity, rate or frequency of the virus. So as much as the league might prefer a short break and prepares various plans for rescheduling and potentially reformatting the rest of the regular season (if it happens) and playoffs, there’s no way to know whether this postponement will last three weeks, three months or some duration in between.

That said, here are some logical formats for various lengths of the coronavirus-related delay:

A month or less

The shortest postponement probably would be three or four weeks, which would mean a resumption in early to mid-April. This would line up with the best-case scenario for Major League Baseball, too, which has pushed its Opening Day on March 26 back by two weeks for now.

The 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs were scheduled to begin April 8, and the NHL theoretically could ignore the rest of the regular season, take the top eight teams in each conference — based on points percentage in completed games — and begin the playoffs on time.

More likely, though, is that the league would finish the regular season in its entirety, then begin the playoffs at the end of April. That wouldn’t be difficult to execute because the playoffs started April 30 after the lockout in 2013. The Cup was awarded (to the Hawks) on June 24 of that year.

Six to eight weeks

This break would mean a resumption between late April and mid-May, a time frame that would start to crunch the schedule.

The NHL reportedly has asked teams to keep their arenas available through the end of July, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli. If the league sought to play the playoffs — which last season lasted two months and two days — in full, that would require starting them by late May.

A more balanced alternative, however, would be to cancel the rest of the regular season but add some play-in games or series to compensate for the premature cutoff of the wild-card race. The seventh- through 10th-place teams in each conference could play best-of-three series, for example, for the final spots.

The NHL then could shorten the typical first and second rounds to best-of-five series to expedite the process.

Two to three months

Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear that the NHL’s top priority is to award the Stanley Cup this season, no matter what it takes.

If the delay stretches into the summer and requires drastic changes to the postponed season, the league could shrink the playoff field to perhaps the top four (or even fewer) teams in each conference. The effect on revenue would be steep, but the trophy at least could be awarded.

Coincidentally, if the NHL played the Stanley Cup Finals between the two current conference leaders, the Blues-Bruins matchup would be a repeat of 2019.

If conference-championship series were included, the Blues would face the Avalanche (with the second-best record) or the Golden Knights (the other division leader) in the West, and the Bruins would face the Lightning or Capitals (with the same respective qualifications) in the East.

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