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Proposed return-to-play format intrigues local NHLers Kailer Yamamoto, Derek Ryan

UPDATED: Wed., June 3, 2020

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

If the NHL can bring its proposed playoff structure to fruition, Kailer Yamamoto is eager to take part.

“It’ll be a lot of fun,” the Oilers forward said. “It’s definitely different when you’re not playing hockey for three months and you step right back into the playoffs.”

The Return to Play Plan, which NHL officials revealed as the framework for a potential resumption of hockey this summer, would include 24 of the league’s 31 teams.

The top four seeds, ranked by point percentage during the truncated 2019-20 regular season, would play a seeding round robin while seeds 5 through 12 would play best-of-5 qualifying round series. Each winner in the qualifying round would then face a team from the round robin in the first round.

All of those games would take place in two hub cities rather than home arenas and would be played without fans.

Derek Ryan, whose Calgary Flames would face the Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round, said he likes the idea.

“I think it’s good to have a lot of teams in the mix. Obviously, it’s unprecedented in terms of a playoff scenario,” Ryan said. “I think it’s cool to just figure something out. Hopefully, we can put it into action. … I’m thinking more of ‘when’ than ‘if.’ ”

The Tampa Bay Lightning hold the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, meaning Tyler Johnson would play in the round robin but would be guaranteed a spot in the first round.

Johnson said there are aspects of the plan that players wish would be different but that overall, “the format’s the format, what the league thinks it best, and we’re ready to do whatever we can.”

One aspect that has yet to be finalized is whether family would accompany players to the host cities. Regardless of the ultimate decision, Ryan, who is married with two young children, said his family would plan to stay home.

“Living in a hotel with two young kids is pretty nightmare(ish), so that’s just not gonna happen,” Ryan said. “That’s not ideal, obviously, and we won’t be away too long if we don’t go far in the playoffs, and if we do go far it means we’re gonna have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, so I guess that balances out a bit.”

With the long layoff, Ryan said it would make for a wide-open playoff.

“Every team that’s in it kind of has a chance, because nobody’s played in so long,” Ryan said. “It’ll be a matter of who can come together and play the best hockey night away and for long enough. Anyone can win.”

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