It was reported earlier today that the NHL has set a date for transitioning to Phase 3 of the Return-to-Play plan:
Hearing the NHL is targetting July 10 for the start of Phase 3 (training camps), subject to getting an agreement done with the NHLPA.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 11, 2020
There would be a few weeks of training camp before teams travel to a hub city for actual game play. Assuming the players association signs off on this timing, we are likely looking at a return of actual NHL games to our televisions (without fans in attendance, as that has been the messaging for weeks now) somewhere around the beginning or middle of August, depending on how long the NHL and players decide the training camp will last.
NHL training camps (phase 3) will open July 10. pic.twitter.com/9CLyRa4Y1P— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) June 11, 2020
By the skin of their teeth, the Stars secured the fourth seed in the NHL’s proposed return to play scenario thanks to having a better points percentage (in two fewer games played) than the next-highest Edmonton Oilers. This, despite having lost six straight as the season went on pause (and then officially ended).
Because of this good fortune, the Stars miss out on having to participate in the play-in tournament other teams beneath them are playing in. The two conferences are seeded one to 12, with the top four teams playing a tournament to determine final seeding for the first round of the playoffs and the other eight teams playing a play-in round to determine who will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was the compromise reached by the league and the players because there was no reasonable path to finishing the regular season.
In the West, that leaves the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights to play the seeding games with the Stars. They’ll each play in a three-game round robin tournament with seeding determined at the end. Moving up in the seeding will have a big impact on the first round opponent as well as determining home ice advantages throughout the playoffs (except for the Final, where the regular season points percentage determines the home ice designation).
Essentially, a higher seed at the end of the round robin tournament will give Dallas the lower seeded opponents out of the qualifying round. Honestly, this setup does provide Dallas with a much better chance of getting out of the first round regardless. Under the traditional setup the playoffs have been played in of late, they were headed for a first round likely matchup against the Colorado Avalanche, which would have been a very tough first round opponent to get through. Not to mention, the second round (if they’d gotten there) was likely another matchup against the St. Louis Blues, who has bounced them out of the playoffs in dramatic fashion twice now in the last few seasons.
(Seriously, Stars fans wanted to find a way to avoid seeing the Blues in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but did we have to have the global pandemic to get there?)
Though the playoffs are expected to be played in hub cities without fans in attendance, the “home ice” designation may not play as big a factor in these playoffs. However, as one of the best teams in the NHL in terms of faceoffs, it gives Dallas a small advantage since the home team gets to put their stick down for faceoffs last in certain situations and places on the ice. Again, nothing earth-shattering, but small advantages will add up in what is going to be one of the weirdest playoffs ever experienced.
The biggest advantage of these playoffs for Dallas, though, may be the two players manning the pipes. Dallas has one of the best goaltending duos in the league, more than capable of taking over a short series. The defensive structure of the Stars will also help them as teams shake off rust from a very discombobulated season resumption.
It’s all setup to give Dallas the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup before the primes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg have another year ticked off.