Teams throughout the NHL have returned to their practice facilities over the last week to prepare themselves for the resumption of the 2019-20 season.

The league plans to begin formal training camp on July 10, with an official target date set for July 31.

Since the regular season was deemed complete, the NHL will go right into a 24-team playoff format featuring 12 teams from each conference.

Many cities were being considered by commissioner Gary Bettman as to where these postseason games would be played. We’ve now received word of the final six candidates as July slowly approaches.

Hub Cities

The six finalists are Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The league will select two cities — one for each conference — and then choose between them for where the Stanley Cup Finals will be played.

Given there will be no fans in attendance, the final city won’t actually matter, but it’s still interesting nonetheless.

However, if a Canadian city is selected, it’s extremely likely it’ll be paired with one of the other two Canadian locations since their government announced it would allow league members to quarantine internally — making it a much more desirable option.

Thus, two of Toronto, Vancouver, and Edmonton seem like optimal destinations, but it’s still unclear when a final decision will be made.

I suspect Las Vegas will also get a lot of support around the league, as keeping the playoffs within the U.S. could be advantageous from a ratings standpoint.

NHL Playoff Preview

With the postseason about six weeks away, the Boston Bruins remain the frontrunners to hoist the Stanley Cup come October.

However, several teams have a great chance of making a deep run in this new playoff format due to the uncertainty regarding how each roster will mesh after an extended time off.

In the Eastern Conference qualifying round, the matchups include the Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12), Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11), New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10), and Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9).

Meanwhile, the top four seeds — Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers — will engage in a round-robin tournament to determine final playoff seeding.

The Eastern Conference is loaded with good teams, so by no means are any of the top four seeds a shoo-in to make the Stanley Cup Final.

Out West, the qualifying round features a plethora of unfamiliar faces. The Edmonton Oilers (5) face off against the Chicago Blackhawks (12), the Nashville Predators (6) play the Arizona Coyotes (11), the Vancouver Canucks (7) match up with the Minnesota Wild (10), and the Calgary Flames (8) challenge the Winnipeg Jets (9).

The top four seeds are the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Las Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars.

The West is wide open, as the conference isn’t nearly as top-heavy as the East. Surprisingly, The Avalanche are the favorites to win the Cup at +700, while the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues are a mere +1200.

The uncertainty surrounding the top seeds will make for an exciting postseason, as truly any team can make a Cinderella run given the extreme circumstances and long layoff.

Stanley Cup Prediction: Boston Bruins vs. Edmonton Oilers — Bruins in six.