amRUSH: Sports return! Isles & Rangers playoff bound, World Team Tennis to play with fans

Commish Gary Bettman confirms 24-team NHL playoff format, draft lottery tweaks

By Joe Pantorno

Gary Bettman (Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen)

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially announced hockey’s return-to-play format that would conclude the 2019-20 season. 
While no concrete date for a return has been set, the NHL will jump directly into a 24-team, expanded postseason format that will see 12 teams per conference admitted into the Stanley Cup Playoffs based on their point percentage when play was halted on March 12 due to coronavirus. 
The top four seeds in each division would get a bye into the quarterfinals while seeds 5-12 will partake in a best-of-five play-in series to decide the more traditional eight-team-per-conference format.

The matchups would be as follows while the top-four seeds play a round-robin tournament to set the final rankings heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Eastern Conference

Top Seeds to receive bye

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers

Play-in Series
No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference

Top Seeds to receive bye

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars

Play-in series
No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks
No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes
No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

Two hub cities will host the playoffs, one city per conference. It is unclear which cities will be awarded those responsibilities at this time.

Bettman did reveal that 10 cities are in the mix to host hockey this summer: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver.

The seven teams that did not make the playoffs and the eight teams that will be eliminated in the play-in round will be subject to a three-phased NHL Draft Lottery to decipher the top three selections.

If three non-playoff teams win top-three picks at the Phase 1 lottery on June 26, there will be no need for a Phase 2 or Phase 3 draw.

If a resuming team is included, however, a Phase 2 lottery would take place after the qualifying round.

After initial reports suggested the NHL would have a draft in early June despite play having not returned and the selection order undecided, momentum is growing that the lottery will be held at the end of June with draft taking place after that.

At the moment, the NHL is ramping up for Phase 2 of its return, which features teams reporting to their facilities for workouts. The hope is that phase will begin in early June.

Phase 3, which is training camp, will not start until at least July which will be followed by Phase 4, the resumption of play.

World Team Tennis to have season with fans at West Virginia neutral site

By Alex Mitchell

WTT announced on Tuesday that its usually post-Wimbledon, summer season will kickoff on Sunday, July 12, playing all of its 66 matches through Sunday, August 2 at The Greenbrier mountain resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Unlike other professional sports that plan to return to action over the next few months, this WTT season will allow fans to attend — at a twenty percent capacity in accordance with state health guidelines.

The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV. (Courtesy of WTT)

That one fifth allowance of spectators is expected to be about 500 people, the league anticipates.

“We’re relying on the state to not open if it’s not safe,” WTT CEO Carlos Silva told amNewYork Metro last week about a criteria to have a tennis season this summer, adding that the league has been in talks with White House task forces on executing these live matches properly.

The league, which is known for its variety of play style ranging from mixed doubles to single matches all in one outing additionally announced that “WTT will engage with its teams and league and venue personnel in conducting all necessary testing and screening for COVID-19, as well as outfitting all parties with the personal protective equipment necessary to conduct its 2020 season matches.”

While currently navigating ways to bring international players who are currently out of the United States to White Sulphur Springs, Silva also noted that roster spots for WTT have been in high demand over the past few weeks.

“Almost every player in the world has called and said can I jump in and get on a team in World Team Tennis,” the CEO said.

If WTT does a ‘last minute’ increase to its talent pool, those athletes would join the ranks of 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens playing for the league’s newly incepted Chicago Smash and the Empire’s doubles specialist Neal Skupski, who took home the title of male MVP last summer, along with other top calibur players.

Last season also featured Venus Williams playing for the Washington Kastles and John Isner for New York, whom had both told the Bronx Times how WTT helps players adjust from grass at Wimbledon to a hardcourt surface for the US Open last year.

John Isner playing for the New York Empire in 2019 (File/The Bronxer)

As for this summer’s format, the WTT schedule will hold a minimum of three matches per day on the 2,500 seat outdoor court with a plan to install a backup, indoor option as well, the league announced.

The championship prize money will also be bumped to a record $5 million with an added $1 million awarded in WTT playoffs compensation.

That includes a $500,000 bonus for the team to hoist the King Trophy in early August.

The New York Empire, who call the Bronx’s Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning home enter this season after pulling off an improbable finals run, consecutively twice upsetting the top ranked Philadelphia Freedoms to clinch a playoff spot in the final match of the regular season — doing the same days in the semi-final round for the King Trophy.

It was a run that Silva and 2019 Empire head coach Luke Jensen still talk about to date.

Matches for the 2020 WTT season will be broadcast on CBS, CBS Sports Network, Tennis Channel, ESPN+ and WTT.com.
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