Dear Gary Bettman,
I first want to thank you for the opportunity to pitch my Seven-Step Plan for getting the NHL back to normalcy, or at least what we can maintain of normalcy, by the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I firmly believe that this system properly rewards and recognizes what Teams had accomplished through the March 12th Pause of the NHL Season, while maintaining fair competitive balance, as well as allowing for the upmost caution and care for the health and safety of the Players who's Season will resume. Tough decisions will have to be made, and future events may render this entire discussion moot, but I firmly believe that this strikes the best possible balance in satisfying the Owners, Players, Fans, and yourself.
In summary, my plan has the Top 10 Teams in each Conference, based on Point Percentage, resume their 2019-20 Season and compete for the Stanley Cup, as well as maintain a close-to-normal 2020-21 Season involving all 31 Teams between August 30th, 2020, and April 10, 2021. Teams may play a theoretical maximum of 106 Games over this span, only 6 Games more than in 2016-17 with the World Cup of Hockey (3 WCH-Preseason games, 7 possible WCH games, 8 NHL-Preseason games, 82 NHL Games).
As mentioned above, the Top 10 Teams in each Conference will participate in the resumed Season. This allows almost all of the Teams that had a reasonable chance at making the Playoffs compete, without letting in poor or mediocre Teams that don't. The 20 Teams are:
Eastern Conference: Boston (1.429 PPG), Tampa Bay (1.314), Washington (1.304), Philadelphia (1.290), Pittsburgh (1.246), Carolina (1.191), New York Islanders (1.176), Toronto (1.157, 28 RW), Columbus (1.157, 25), and Florida (1.130).
Western Conference: St. Louis (1.324), Colorado (1.314), Vegas (1.211), Dallas (1.188), Edmonton (1.169), Nashville (1.130, 28), Vancouver (1.130, 27), Calgary (1.129), Winnipeg (1.127), and Minnesota (1.116).
Not Participating: Anaheim, Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Ottawa, and San Jose.
Each Conference will then be organized into 2 Divisions of 5 Teams, with the 1, 4, 5, 8, and 10 seeds in one Division, and the 2, 3, 6, 7, and 9 seeds in the other. The Division Winners will get the 1 & 2 seeds, as well as determine the Division Names. Note that there is no limit to the number of Teams that can cross over from their standard Division: the "Atlantic" Division could theoretically have four Metropolitan Teams, though this is not the case in any of the Divisions. Only the Pacific has a minority split, with 3 Central Teams and 2 Pacific Teams. The following Divisions result from this plan:
Atlantic Division: Boston (1, Black), Philadelphia (4, Orange), Pittsburgh (5, White), Toronto (8, Blue), and Florida (10, Red).
Central Division: St. Louis (1, Blue), Dallas (4, Green), Edmonton (5, Orange), Calgary (8, Red), and Minnesota (10, White).
Metropolitan Division: Washington (2, Red), Tampa Bay (3, Blue), Carolina (6, Black Alternate), New York Islanders (7, White), and Columbus (9, Blue and White).
Pacific Division: Vegas (2, Grey), Colorado (3, Maroon), Nashville (6, Yellow), Vancouver (7, Blue), and Winnipeg (10, White).
Step 1 is a two-week Training Camp beginning on August 30th at the Team's Home facility, with Players and Staff being tested daily. The late August 30th start allows for almost 3.5 months for progress in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and increased safety all around. This Training Camp would also serve as a Quarantine for European Players. The 20 Teams would then travel to respective Divisional Hub Cities to begin competition on September 12th. Note that, due to all Games being hosted at Neutral Sites, all but one Team could theoretically only bring one set of equipment and jerseys, allowing for color-on-color match-ups while easing cleaning and safety. These colors are noted in the Divisional alignments, with Columbus needing two jerseys due to the colors of the other Teams in the Metropolitan and being the lowest seed.
Step 2 would then involve each Team playing various amounts of Games to all reach 71 Games Played, the highest of any Team at the Pause. The New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes require 3 such Games; Dallas, Florida, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, and Washington 2 Games; Boston, Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Tampa Bay, and Toronto 1 Game; while Edmonton, St. Louis, Vegas, and Winnipeg were all at 71 Games. A proposed schedule to accomplish this can be found here, with an emphasis on preserving Postponed Games wherever possible. Note that one Cross-Divisional game is necessary: Dallas at Vancouver, highlighted in yellow. This would be the first game both Teams play, and be immediately followed by a two-day mini-Quarantine as Dallas returns to its Hub City. Step 3 would then be a Divisional Round Robin, with all 5 Teams playing all 4 other Teams, resulting in a 75-Game Regular Season. Note that Steps 2 and 3 can, and I'd recommend should, overlap to condense scheduling. Together, Steps 2 and 3 allows for all Teams to get between 4 to 7 games of competitive play, meaning that no Teams enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs "cold." Otherwise, the lower seeds would have an advantage due to playing a "Wild Card" round prior to the Divisional Semifinals, while higher seeds would've gone months without playing. I believe that Steps 2 and 3 could be completed between September 13th and September 22nd.
Step 4 would then be a 5-Team, Divisional Playoffs for each Hub City. Teams would be reseeded 1-5 based on all 75 Games Played in the Regular Season. The 4 and 5 seeds would then play a Best-of-3 Wild Card Series within the Hub prior to facing the 1 seed. The four Teams eliminated would have a theoretical minimum of 6 Games Played prior to elimination, which is admittedly low, though four of those Games would be a meaningful fight for Playoff position, and two would be actual Payoff Games, making the trip worthwhile. Then, a Best-of-5 Divisional Semifinals would be played, with the winner of the Wild Card playing the 1 seed, and the 2 and 3 Seeds facing off. The Divisional Playoffs would then conclude with a Best-of-5 Final between the two remaining teams. I believe the Wild Card could be played between September 24th and September 27th, the Semifinals between September 28th and October 4th, and the Finals between October 6th and October 12th.
Step 5 would then be the Stanley Cup Semifinals and Final, which would take place in a fifth, neutral Hub City. Due to the neutral site, Conference affiliations are unnecessary, and Teams may be reseeded 1-4 based on the 75 Games Played in the Regular Season. Then, a Best-of-5 Semifinals similar to the Divisional Semifinals would take place between October 14th and October 20th. The winners would then advance to the greatest Championship in sports, a Best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final, starting October 22, and if 7 Games are necessary, ending on Halloween night.
Step 6 is the Off-Season, hyper-condensed between the end of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and November 21st, 2020. Montreal would be awarded the 2021 Entry Draft, while the 2020 NHL Entry Draft would be held virtually November 2nd and 3rd, and Free Agency would start November 4th. Training Camps for the 11 non-Playoff Teams would begin November 7th, Teams eliminated in the Wild Card November 10th, Teams eliminated in the Divisional Semifinals November 11th, Teams eliminated in the Divisional Finals November 12th, Teams eliminated in the Semifinals November 14th, while the Finalists' training camps would start November 16th. This staggering is to both allows non-Playoff teams more time to resume activities, but also Teams with a longer Playoff run more time off. All Training Camps and Free Agency would finish on November 21st. There would be no Preseason Games.
Step 7 is a slightly shortened, 74-Game 2020-2021 Regular Season starting November 22nd. While losing 8 Games off the schedule is frustrating, it is necessary in order to neither malign the 2021 Off-Season or 2020-21 Regular Season. Teams in the Atlantic, Metropolitan and Pacific Divisions would play all 7 Division mates four times, and all 23 other Teams twice, effectively creating four Conferences for one season. The Central would still play all 24 other Teams twice, and Teams would play 4 Division mates four times, but 2 Division mates would be played 5 times. This is done to allow for the 7-Team nature of the division to still reach 74 Games. This 74-Game total has the nice bonus of being incredibly close to the 75-Game 2019-20 Regular Season, providing some measure of consistency. In addition, the 2021 Winter Classic, All Star Game, and Stadium Series would be cancelled, with the 2022 editions of those events awarded to Minnesota, Florida, and Carolina respectively. The Regular Season would conclude on April 10th, at which point a traditional Stanley Cup Playoffs would occur.
Now that my plan has been presented, I wish to conclude by examining closer some of the upsides to my plan, while also citing my concerns with current proposals from both Mr. Bettman and others. My system is sensible, logical, and fair, while also providing maximum safety for the Players and Staff of our Teams. The 20-Team format comes the closest to including all Playoff contenders, while not allowing Teams with otherwise no shot in. The only Team that was arguably excluded was the New York Rangers, however allowing them in would require letting Arizona in in the West. Considering the Coyotes are three Points back of Minnesota, and four back of the Wild Card, all with one more Game Played, as well as the numerical awkwardness of a 11 Teams per Conference, seems to me a solid case for their exclusion. A 24-Team plan is even more nonsensical, with admitted sellers in Chicago and Montreal added in. Neither would have made the moves they did at the deadline if they fancied themselves contenders: it should not be gifted to them for being large markets. Including a large market should never come at the expense of competitive integrity. I'd rather see Montreal and Chicago serve as Hub Cities, if needed to be included.
An additional improvement is the Regular Season Games played prior to the Playoffs. If not included, and more than 16 Teams participate, an incredible bias towards the lower seeds is introduced. They would be given an additional two to seven games to recover from not playing for months prior to facing the best Teams in the League cold. Furthermore, Standings would be decided by Points, not Points Percentage, leveling the playing field between St. Louis and Winnipeg with their 71 Games Played, and Carolina and the New York Islanders with 68.
Also, using the System above naturally provides great match-ups. Boston-Toronto and Flyers-Penguins in the Atlantic, Edmonton-Calgary in the Central, Tampa Bay-Columbus or Washington-Tampa in the Metropolitan, and the Four Horsemen of Hate between Colorado, Nashville, Vegas, and Winnipeg in the Pacific. In addition, though Vegas and Washington technically leapfrog Colorado and Tampa Bay in initial seeding, they must then defend their seeding on the ice, or risk losing it when reseeded for the Playoffs. Furthermore, a potential reseeding for the Semifinals allows for Final match-ups like Pittsburgh-Washington, Boston-Tampa Bay, St. Louis-Nashville, or Edmonton-Vancouver that'd be otherwise impossible. Another positive is the potential for color-on-color match-ups.
In summary, I thoroughly believe that this plan would provide a fully satisfying ending for the 2019-20 NHL Season, while providing a fair path to the Cup for those still in contention. The Divisional Hub Cities provide both fair yet intense play and maximum safety for our Teams, while reseeding prior to the Playoffs increases fairness and makes every last Round Robin game count. The integrity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is preserved, while the 2020-21 NHL Season isn't hampered to greatly by doing so. Players were saying at the start of Quarantine that the 2020 Playoffs could be the best in history, and this system gives them the greatest chance of being correct.
Thank you again for your time, Mr. Bettman. I'm honored to have been of assistance through this time.