- The NHL Players Association has approved a 24 team Stanley Cup Playoff format.
- Several details remain to be negotiated before the NHL can return to play.
- A joint announcement on the playoff format is expected in the next few days.
In a world where the major North American sports are bumbling around in the general direction of a return to play while smaller outfits like the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) is demonstrating decisive leadership it’s hard to believe that we might actually have NHL action on the horizon. On Friday, the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) approved the league’s proposal for a 24 team Stanley Cup playoff format when play is resumed. There’s still a number of details to be worked out including logistical and safety issues but at least the two sides are in agreement and moving in the right direction.
Here’s what the NHLPA said in a statement released earlier in the evening:
“The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”
The NHL has to sign off on the format and since they’re the ones who proposed it in the first place should happen quickly. A joint announcement on the agreed format could come early next week. With this framework in place the NHL could actually meet the July or August timetable for the return of hockey.
HOW THE PLAYOFFS WOULD WORK
The expanded playoffs was considered the fairest way to accommodate teams that were ‘on the bubble’ when the season was suspended in mid-March. Unfortunately, if you’re a fan of the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings I’ve got some bad news for you. Barring some completely unforeseen developments your team is now in their offseason and on the clock for the NHL Draft lottery.
So here’s the basic format of the playoffs: it will be conference based with the top four teams in each conference receiving a bye into the second round. That means these teams will get byes and will begin the postseason seeded as follows:
EASTERN CONFERENCE: Boston Bruins (1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2), Washington Capitals (3), Philadelphia Flyers (4)
WESTERN CONFERENCE: St. Louis Blues (1), Colorado Avalanche (2), Vegas Golden Knights (3), Dallas Stars (4)
The remaining eight teams in each conference will play a best of five ‘play in series’ with matchups determined by points percentage (considered a fairer metric with teams having played a differing number of games). The first round matchups will be as follows:
Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)
Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)
New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10)
Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)
Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10)
Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)
That potential Edmonton v. Chicago first round series looks like a lot of fun.
What happens then remains a point to be negotiated. The initial plan proposed by the league had the teams bracketed while a number of players prefer reseeding the teams after the first round. At any rate, after the first round the four remaining teams will join the four bye teams in each conference for good old fashioned best of 7 playoff hockey the rest of the way.
There’s also some question about what the four bye teams in each conference will be doing while the best of five ‘play in’ round is going on. They’ll be playing hockey in some form but they won’t be exhibition games. They’ll ‘count’ in some form with a likely format being a round robin tournament that could potentially reseed the top four. This is also up to negotiation.
The Pittsburgh Penguins fan site PGH Hockey Now points out some interesting historical context. The last time the NHL had a 24 team playoff was 1914 when it was an open tournament. The league didn’t even have 24 teams until 1993. Even without fans it should be a fun and definitely unique playoffs.
There’s still a lot to work out but it looks like the NHL will go with two ‘hub’ cities. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has indicated that eight or nine cities are ‘under consideration’ but it’s hard to see Las Vegas not being one of the hubs. They’ve got the hotels, the rink, the practice space, and the area is configured in such a way that it’ll be fairly easy to isolate everything. Edmonton is a very likely possibility for the other ‘hub’. Stay tuned–we should know a lot more by early next week.