The NHL released its biggest news of the hiatus on Tuesday as Gary Bettman announced that if the 2019-20 season resumes, it would only be for the playoffs.
The Return to Play Plan features a 24-team postseason format. The NHLPA voted to approve the new configuration 29-2 last week, with Carolina and Tampa Bay being the lone dissenting votes. Per the terms of the plan, which are far from complete, the playoffs would take place at two separate campus sites, presumably one for each conference. Bettman identified Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver as potential hosts.
Despite Los Angeles being considered to host postseason games, the LA Kings will not be eligible for the playoffs. The new format will take the top 12 teams in each conference, and even though the Kings won their last seven games, they still fall eight points short. Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit’s seasons will also be considered over as of March 11, the last date before the season pause.
The NHL Draft will take place following the conclusion of the postseason, and the draft lottery will be held on June 26. Each of the seven eliminated teams will have weighted odds for the first pick based on their current standings; the Kings have a 9.5% chance of selecting first overall, fourth-best odds. The eight teams that will lose in the first round of the playoffs will be entered in as placeholders — should any of them earn a top-three pick in the June 26 drawings, a second phase of the lottery will occur once the qualifying round of the playoffs is complete.
There is still no set timeline for when the NHL will resume its season, though the AP reports that three-week training camps will begin no earlier than July 1. There remains a possibility that the playoffs will be canceled as well due to ongoing health concerns about returning to play, even though there is now a structure in place. Regardless, the Los Angeles Kings have finality on the 2019-20 league year and can firmly look ahead to the 2020 draft and beyond.