The NHL announced on Tuesday that the Minnesota Wild will battle the Vancouver Canucks in a best-of-five play-in series if the season resumes this summer.
The plan was announced on Tuesday afternoon where the NHL introduced a return to play protocol that effectively ended the regular season, but introduced a 24-team tournament format to determine a Stanley Cup Champion.
In this scenario, the top four teams in each conference would automatically qualify for the playoffs with the fifth through 12th seeded teams would compete in a best-of-five playoff series to get into the playoff field.
This comes at good news for the Wild, who were sitting one point behind Nashville for the eighth and final playoff spot, but had won eight of their last 11 games before the NHL season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12.
Instead of being on the outside looking in, the Wild would face the Canucks, who were sitting as the seventh seed before the season was halted. This would also be good news for the Wild, who were 2-1 against Vancouver and have won five of their past seven meetings with the Canucks.
Of course, this also won't be an ordinary playoff series. With the pandemic still placing heavy restrictions on large gatherings across the country, the NHL's initiative calls for two hub cities to host the tournament. Minneapolis/St. Paul was listed as one of the potential hub cities for the tournament, albeit without fans.
Despite the NHL's wishes to have a conclusion to the season, there are still plenty of hurdles that need to be cleared before the Wild can hit the ice.
The NHLPA still needs to sign off on any continuation of play and in an interview with Michael Russo of The Athletic, Wild goaltender and NHLPA representative Devan Dubnyk pointed out there are still plenty of things to be ironed out.
“There’s so much uncertainty with everything that’s gone on in the world and different guys feel different ways when it comes to return to play and health and safety,” Dubnyk said.
“It’s difficult because in the past I’ve always had good confidence in voting on things and knowing that I was voting for what the guys would want. In this scenario, it’s hard because a lot of stuff is split down the middle or very close."
The NHL activated Phase Two of their return to play initiative on Monday, which allowed teams to open their facilities for voluntary workouts. Phase Three, which would occur no later than July 1, would see the opening of training camps league-wide, but that could be difficult with many players still out of the country due to the pandemic.