The clock continues to tick without a current plan or resolution on how the NHL could cap off the 2019-20 season. While the coronavirus continues to spread, it is impossible for anyone, including Gary Bettman, to have a timetable on when play could resume.
NHL players proposed a format that would wrap up the regular season in July. This would bring playoffs through September and delay the start of the 2020-21 season to November. This method allows teams to finish out what they've worked for all year. Unfortunately the season turnaround time is far too short and a delayed start for the 20-21 season turns one messy season into another. NHL officials have since stated that they will not make a decision that will impact the start of the 20-21 season.
With time as a huge factor in the NHL's battle to complete the 19-20 season, a shortened playoff may be the best course of action. Cancelling the season completely would erase the credible performance in what has been played in 70ish games by each team. The teams that performed the best until this point should be rewarded for a chance at the Cup.
While keeping next season's start in consideration, a solution would be to skip right to the Conference Finals. The Boston Bruins would face off against Tampa Bay in the East while Colorado and St. Louis would battle in the West. The viewership would be through the roof if hockey returned starting with the Conference Finals. Issues certainly arise, like an unfair amount of games played along with disappointing endings for teams that would have made the playoffs in a traditional 16 team format. Unfortunately with our current circumstances, there is no possible way to fairly award a winner in traditional NHL fashion. The turnaround time will be far too short to allow a 16 team playoff without interrupting the start of next season. The Washington Capitals are the biggest losers of a system that skips right to the Conference Finals. With a game in hand, the Caps are just two points away from Tampa. Tampa holds the tie-breaker (most wins) so even if Washington was to win one final game to give them an even amount of games played.
The fact is that the NHL is in an unprecedented position as to how to complete the season and award a champion. So instead of throwing the whole season out the window, award the top four regular season performers (and fans) with the chance to battle for the Cup.