The Toronto Maple Leafs will kick-start their play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Aug. 2 after the NHL and NHLPA struck a crucial deal.
The announcement of the play-in schedule and key post-season dates comes after the NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement and ratified the league’s return-to-play plans as well as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
As part of the return-to-play plans, the Leafs will play every game on home ice as Toronto has been officially confirmed as the hub city for the Eastern Conference.
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As the Leafs enter the post-season as the eighth seed in the East, they will don their blue jerseys in Games 1 and 2 while the Blue Jackets will be considered the ‘home’ team in Game 3 as the ninth seed.
Should further games be required to decide the series, the Blue Jackets will remain the ‘home’ team for Game 4 with the Leafs returning in blue for Game 5.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series will take place on Aug. 4 while Game Three will be two days later, on the sixth.
Games 4 and 5 have been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 7 and 9. On Aug. 10, with every play-in series officially decided before then, the second phase of the NHL draft lottery will take place.
All teams eliminated from the play-in round will have a 12.5 per cent chance of landing the first overall selection in the draft, which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 9, allowing them to take the consensus best player in the draft: Alexis Lafreniere.
While adding a player of Lafreniere’s quality and potential to an already young and highly talented group would be a positive for the Leafs, having a long run in the post-season is 100 per cent the goal for this group.
The Leafs have struggled immensely with injuries throughout the 2019/20 season, rarely having a fully healthy roster available for selection.
The early struggles under Mike Babcock followed a resurgent period under first-time head coach Sheldon Keefe before the injuries began to pile on and see the team battle through inconsistency.
A talented core that includes the likes of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly and Frederik Andersen will be determined to overcome the past three seasons of first-round exits, proving they are able to turn up when it matters most.
Staying close to home may give a slight mental advantage to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but with no fans in the arenas, this may not be as significant as usual and the players will need to give it their all to avoid another disappointing end.