Almost five months after the NHL decided to pause play on the 2019-20 season, hockey is coming back and there will be a Stanley Cup champion in 2020.
Back in May, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league's plans for a 24-team playoff format in which 12 teams from each conference would return to the hockey rink to take part in a modified postseason.
The NHL will follow the example of the MLS, NBA and other sports leagues that have resumed play, by hosting teams in a two-city bubble where Eastern Conference teams will live and play in Toronto while Western Conference teams will do so in Edmonton. Each team will be allowed to bring a total of 50 personnel into their respective bubble including a roster of 31 players.
Each NHL hub city will also have one technical crew onsite inside the bubble that will record the games to create a "world feed" for every game played in both Rogers Place arena in Edmonton and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Since there will be no fans in attendance at these games, the NHL has basically turned both arenas into large TV studios with stages and giant LED screens behind the player benches. Unlike in other sports where cardboard cutouts of fans fill the empty seats, the NHL has covered them with tarps that display team names and logos.
The top four teams in each conference will get an automatic bye into the first round of the playoffs. The remaining 16 teams will play a best-of-five qualifying round to determine who moves on to the first round. The first and second rounds will be best-of-seven as will the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final which will take place at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Canada.
When it comes to the schedule, the qualifiers and round robins will begin on August 1 and last until August 11 with the second round set to start at the end of August. The conference finals will start at the beginning of September and the Stanley Cup Final will take place at the end of the month.
How to watch the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers from anywhere
We have all the details on how you can watch the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers in the U.S., Canada, and UK further down in this guide. However, if you're currently traveling or live in a country without an official broadcast option you won't be able to watch the NHL's Return to Play.
That's where one of the best VPNs (Virtual Private Network) can really come in handy. They allow you to virtually change the IP address of your laptop, tablet or mobile to one that's back in your home country which will let you watch as if you were back there.
VPNs are incredibly easy to use and have the added benefit of providing you with an additional layer of security when surfing the web. There are also a lot of options but we recommend ExpressVPN as our top pick due to its speed, security and ease of use. The service can even be used on a wide array of operating systems and devices (e.g. iOS, Android, Smart TVs, Fire TV Stick, Roku, game consoles, etc). Sign up for ExpressVPN now (opens in new tab) and enjoy a 49% discount and 3 months FREE with an annual subscription. You can even test it out for yourself thanks to the service's 30-day money back guarantee. Looking for more options?
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How to stream the 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers online in the U.S.
As part of the NHL's Return to Play, hockey games will be shown nationally in the US across NBC, NBCSN, and the USA Network. The league's specialty cable channel, NHL Network will also show some games. Additionally, local games can be watched on your Regional Sports Network (RSN) which is usually either a regional Fox Sports or NBC Sports channel. For the rest of the 2020 NHL Playoffs, games will be shown nationally on NBCSN, NBC and some games in the first and second rounds will air on CNBC, USA Network and the NHL Network.
While you'll be able to watch all of the games in the Stanley Cup qualifiers on cable, if you already signed up for NHL.TV earlier this year, you can stream these games online using your existing subscription. If not, don't worry as the NHL is currently running a promotion where you can sign up for its All Access Pass for $4.99 or its Single Team Pass for $3.99. An NHL.TV subscription will allow you to watch all of the games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers live but keep in mind that blackouts and other restrictions apply.
If you're a cord cutter or don't like the restrictions of NHL.TV, don't worry as there are now a number of streaming services, all at different price points, which will give you access to all the channels you need to watch the Stanley Cup qualifiers online. We've listed a few of our favorites below to make things easier for you.
- Hulu with Live TV - $54.99 per month - Hulu with Live TV gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but not the NHL Network. The service supports a wide variety of streaming devices and even includes its own Hulu Originals in case you want a break from watching hockey.
- Sling TV (opens in new tab) - $30 per month - Sling TV's Blue package gives you access to NBC, NBCSN and USA though you'll have to add the $5 News Extra and $10 Sports Extra packages to your subscription to watch games on CNBC and the NHL Network.
- YouTube TV - $65 per month - YouTube TV gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but not the NHL Network. With YouTube TV you get free unlimited DVR storage space to record games for later and you can stream the service on three devices simultaneously. A free 7-day trial is also available so you can test it out for yourself.
- AT&T TV Now (opens in new tab) - $65 per month - AT&T TV Now's Plus package comes with NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but doesn't include the NHL Network. You can stream content on two screens simultaneously (or pay $5 extra to do so on three screens) and with the AT&T TV Now app you can watch live TV on the go. The service also lets you record 20 hours of Cloud DVR storage. New customers can take advantage of a 7-day trial but you'll have to purchase one of AT&T TV Now's packages first.
- FuboTV (opens in new tab) - starting at $54.99 per month - fuboTV gives you access to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC and USA but not the NHL Network. The service also includes Cloud DVR so you can record games to watch them later and if you forget to record a game, the company's 3-day replay allows you to replay nearly any game, show or movie that aired in the last three days. FuboTV even offers a free 7-day trial so you can test out the service.
Watch the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Canada
If you live in Canada and want to watch the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on TV, games will be aired across CBC, TVA Sports and Sportsnet. However, you can also stream every single game of the Round Robin, Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Stanley Cup Playoffs online with a subscription to Sportsnet NOW with no blackouts. The service costs $9.99 a week or either $19.99 or $27.99 per month depending on whether you sign up for SN Now or SN Now+. If Sportsnet is already part of your cable package, you can get access to Sportsnet Now for free.
Alternatively, you can also sign up for Canada's NHL.TV equivalent, NHL Live. The service's monthly pass costs $29.99 per month but you can also sign up for the Stanley Cup Pass for a one-time payment of $74.99. Surprisingly, NHL Live isn't offering a similar discount to NHL.TV so for Canadians that want to watch the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sportsnet Now looks like the better option.
How to watch 2020 Stanley Cup qualifiers in the UK
Unfortunately for hockey fans in the UK, there are no regular TV channels like BBC or Sky that show NHL games. However, Premier Sports will show some of the games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you're already a Sky subscriber, adding Premier Sports will cost you £11.99 per month though Virgin Media customers get a bit of a discount and will only have to pay £9.99 per month.
NHL.TV is also available in the UK but games selected by Premier Sports for live coverage won't be available live through the league's own service until 24 hours later.
How is the NHL preventing spread of COVID?
In order to prevent the spread of COVID and the possible cancellation of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL is taking serious steps to ensure that all of the players and staff at its bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton are safe.
Daily testing for COVID-19 will be part of the routine for players and staff and the NHL and NHL Players' Association followed the guidance of medical experts when they created the protocols for Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL Return to Play Plan. The league also made the decision to locate its two hubs in places where there would be better access to testing. The NHL is getting its COVID tests from commercial sources and the league is paying for them as well. Players will also undergo daily symptom checks and temperature screenings to ensure that they haven't become infected.
The NHL will continue to provide regular updates on test results without identifying the players or their teams. Teams will also be prohibited from revealing the test results of players.
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