The 2019-20 National Hockey League season remains on hold for the time being as do many sports around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.
However, there seems to be a growing sense that the league could start to begin Phase 2 of its return to play initiative as soon as the end of May. This will see players returning to their home cities to begin quarantining as a group and returning to workout at their home facilities. From there, Phase 3 of the process would see teams start up a training camp to get ready for Phase 4, which will be the return of game action.
In the meantime, the league has also debated on how the rest of the 2019-20 season should be carried out to its completion. Whether it is cutting out the rest of the regular season and beginning immediately with the playoffs, or trying to get some regular season action in before the start of a possibly expanded playoff format unique to just this season. The league is also trying to situate how to carry out other events like the 2020 NHL Draft, which could take place before the restart of the season takes place.
As for the Buffalo Sabres, the players have said since the league shut down from the coronavirus that they are hoping to get some game action in before the end of the season. Whether it would be for one final playoff push or just to get some more games in as a group.
However, as Sportsnet hockey insider Elliotte Friedman said with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on The Instigators on Thursday, the Sabres are likely out of the mix for the playoffs, even if they expand to a 24-team format.
"I think that if we go to 24 [teams], you're going to see the [New York] Rangers in some way," he said in his weekly appearance on WGR. "The Rangers would be ahead of Buffalo, so I think one of the things I think they're considering is if we go by division, like of the top-12 [in the Eastern Conference], seven are in the [Metropolitan] and five are in the Atlantic. The Rangers would be the seventh team in the Metro and go to the Atlantic. They're talking about the same thing out West with seven in the Central and five in the Pacific, and one of the [Central] teams might move into the Pacific."
Check out some more of what Friedman had to say:
"I think it's going to be 24 and I don't think it's going to be 31. Now I should say that I've had people tell me, 'Don't report anything as gospel. Things can change.' As I talk to you right now at this moment, live on you radio show. I think it's going to be 24, not 31, and seven teams are going to be out."
"I think that is one of the questions, because I think there's been some talk about divisions. I believe there's been some proposals to say maybe we should put guys in divisions where - for example, Montreal is a 12-seed in the East. If you're playing a 5-seed vs. 12-seed, shouldn't Pittsburgh play Montreal, because Pittsburgh was [the 5-seed]. So maybe you put them in brackets that way.
"They're going to [finalize the seeding] by points percentage. One of the things that someone told me and I went up and looked. I don't necessarily think that this is the way they're going to do it, but one way to look at it is I think at some point they talked about what if you reset everybody back to a certain number of games. For example, if you walked Montreal back to 69 games, which is what Buffalo and New Jersey had played, if you look at the way they finished the year, they lost their last three games, so they'd be still at 71 points."
"A lot of this is about TV ratings and stuff like that. Which market in the [United] States gets great TV ratings? Buffalo. I do believe that came up."
"I don't know where to go on this one. Two weeks ago, when that memo came out, I thought for sure that we're having a draft on June 5 and 6. I thought that was the NHL's way of saying, 'I know you guys don't like this, but too bad. We're doing it.' The pushback was so fierce that we still haven't heard anything yet.
"In that memo that [Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly wrote, he said you'll get 30 days notice. So it's, what, May 14? So we're not talking about June 5 and 6. To me now, I see to halves. No. 1 is we do it the days it was originally supposed to be at the end of June, online, or the hockey people who fought against it may have won and that we're doing it after season."
You can listen to the entire interview below: