The rumour mill continues to churn, but one thing appears to be more and more definite: a 2020 Stanley Cup champion will be crowned.

When it’ll happen is still in flux because of such things as location, coronavirus testing, the U.S.-Canada border closures, limited access from Europe and mandatory 14-day quarantines to anyone entering Canada.

Regardless of those variables, it sounds as if the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association, through their joint Return to Play Committee, are inching closer to summer hockey. The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont wrote (subscription required) that the Bruins may be able to get back on the ice, albeit in small groups, by June 1 under Phase 2 of the league’s reopening protocols, with the playoffs starting July 1.

Here’s everything we know so far about the NHL’s potential return to the ice:

How many teams would return?

According to a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on May 20, it looks as if the league, the players and the Return to Play Committee are zeroing in on a 24-team playoff.

The top 24 teams based on points percentage — teams had not all played the same number of games when the season was paused on March 12 — would be seeded 1-12 in each conference. Seven teams would not resume play and would then enter the draft lottery.

Eastern Conference

1 Boston Bruins 44-14-12 .714
2 Tampa Bay Lightning 43-21-6 .657
3 Washington Capitals 41-20-8 .652
4 Philadelphia Flyers 41-21-7 .645
5 Pittsburgh Penguins 40-23-6 .623
6 Carolina Hurricanes 38-25-5 .596
7 New York Islanders 35-23-10 .588
8 Toronto Maple Leafs 36-25-9 .579
9 Columbus Blue Jackets 33-33-15 .579
10 Florida Panthers 35-26-8 .565
11 New York Rangers 37-28-5 .564
12 Montreal Canadiens 31-31-9 .500

Western Conference

1 St. Louis Blues 42-19-10 .662
2 Colorado Avalanche 42-20-8 .657
3 Vegas Golden Knights 39-24-8 .606
4 Dallas Stars 37-24-8 .594
5 Edmonton Oilers 37-25-9 .585
6 Nashville Predators 35-26-8 .565
7 Vancouver Canucks 36-27-6 .565
8 Calgary Flames 36-27-7 .564
9 Winnipeg Jets 37-28-6 .563
10 Minnesota Wild 35-27-7 .558
11 Arizona Coyotes 33-29-8 .529
12 Chicago Blackhawks 32-30-8 .514

Teams that would not return

Buffalo Sabres 30-31-8 .493
New Jersey Devils 28-29-12 .493
Anaheim Ducks 29-33-9 .472
Los Angeles Kings 29-35-6 .457
San Jose Sharks 29-36-5 .450
Ottawa Senators 25-34-12 .437
Detroit Red Wings 17-49-5 .275

How would the playoffs work?

Brackets! Who doesn’t love a bracket?

In the proposed format, there would an NCAA-style bracket without any reseeding.

According to Friedman, the top four seeds in each conference would receive byes and the “play-in series” would be a best-of-five format.

Eastern Conference opening-round series

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference opening-round series

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Once these series are decided and the Stanley Cup playoffs are down to the traditional 16 teams, the four teams that received byes would then enter the bracket for a best-of-seven series.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Thursday that the four top teams could play in a mini-round-robin tournament of their own to determine final seeding.

If the seeding remains the same for those four teams, then this is how the Round of 16 would shake out — and, yes, that could mean a Maple Leafs-Bruins “first-round matchup.”

Eastern Conference second-round series

(1) Boston Bruins vs. winner of Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. winner of Islanders-Panthers
(3) Washington Capitals vs. winner of Hurricanes-Rangers
(4) Philadelphia Flyers vs. winner of Penguins-Canadiens

Western Conference second-round series

(1) St. Louis Blues vs. winner of Flames-Jets
(2) Colorado Avalanche vs. winner of Canucks-Wild
(3) Vegas Golden Knights vs. winner of Predators-Coyotes
(4) Dallas Stars vs. winner of Oilers-Blackhawks

Where will the games be held?

“Hub cities” is the magic word in sports right now and the NHL appears to be following that path. With the majority of NHL cities either a COVID-19 hotspot or under a ban on public gatherings through the summer, it is becoming more apparent this is the route the league needs to take.

According to reports, the NHL has received bids from multiple teams including Columbus, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. In the “hub city” players would be quarantined to minimize the possibility of infection. 

TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted Thursday that the Oilers’ hometown is rolling out the red carpet for the NHL — offering up everything from golf courses to a colder, more hockey-centric climate.

Will fans be able to attend?

Probably not. The league has looked into it but the complications are massive. 

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