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NHL Now Looking At 24 Team Playoffs Upon Return

Ross Everett
by in NHL on
  • The National Hockey League is tentatively looking at a July or August re-start though the ‘official’ position is that there is no timeline.
  • Commissioner Gary Bettman has confirmed that the start of the 2020-2021 season could be delayed until December if necessary.
  • The NHL is now working on having 24 teams in the playoffs upon a return to play for 2019-2020.

It’s becoming apparent that if and when the NBA and NHL resume their 2019-2020 seasons there won’t be much of a regular season component if any. It’s now downright unrealistic to even consider anything approaching a full schedule now that Major League Baseball is talking about playing the 2020 season with only 82 games. The hope for both leagues is that the playoffs can be salvaged and there’s the expectation that more teams would qualify for the postseason under any proposal to resume play.

The National Hockey League has been kicking around a variety of schemes to get back to business but none have been considered anything remotely final. There’s also been no timeframe provided by the league which further clouds the prospects for hockey anytime soon. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has already said that the start of the 2020-2021 season could be delayed if necessary to complete the 2019-2020 season. At some point, however, there’s a ‘diminishing returns’ concept at play. If the league doesn’t put forth something soon they could find the most viable course of action to be to cancel the rest of the current season as did the American Hockey League.

There’s a lot of ‘moving parts’ to any proposal. Teams and the league want to salvage as much revenue as possible though how much is possible is a big question since the assumption is that any resumption of play would be without fans. Players will need to get back in shape and will also have to be tested to make sure they haven’t contracted COVID-19. Steps will have to be taken to protect the health and safety of everyone involved. Also an issue–coming up with any type of truncated 2019-2020 season that will regain the interest of even sport starved fans.

One thing that doesn’t look to be on the table is playing at the ‘neutral sites’ originally proposed by the league. There are some tangentially related scenarios that could end up being used. One scenario could involve taking advantage of the unique advantages of having teams live and play in the Las Vegas area. This definitely hasn’t been lost on the NBA and don’t be surprised if the city plays a big part in a hypothetical return for pro hoops. The advantages that the NBA likes–multiple venues and plenty of hotel space within close proximity–are identical for the NHL. The Las Vegas Review Journal has recently confirmed that the city is being considered as one of four possible ‘hub cities’ along with Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Minnesota.

The current plan under consideration between the league and the NHLPA would have a 24 team playoffs with games in ‘some form’ to be contested before the postseason begins. That’s the word from Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic who provided more context:

“I’m told the proposed 24-team format doesn’t go straight to the playoffs but involves games in some form before-hand. That would be something the players would have pushed for. Again, let me stress that both sides on the committee as of Sunday morning still had work to do on the format so it may yet change again.”

“But there’s a clear sense that both sides are closer on what a season resumption may look like.”

“Once the Return to Play committee finally agrees to a format (assuming it eventually does), the NHLPA’s executive board (31 player reps) would need to vote on it for approval.”

The details of the games prior to the start of the playoffs are unknown and there’s plenty of question about why they’re being played at all. Some suggestions are that they’ll serve as de facto preseason games to get players back in top shape for hockey as well as these games being used to finalize the playoff standings.

The NHL has been looking at a late June/early July restart. Commissioner Betmann has already said that teams would need at least three weeks of training camp before competitive games can resume. Furthermore, Coronavirus trends have to continue to evolve in a positive direction and that’s far from a ‘given’. Ultimately, if the NHL is serious about resuming hockey prior to next season they need to follow the lead set by the Professional Bull Riders and come up with a plan and implement it. If the goal is to come up with a plan that keeps everyone in government and the media happen you can forget about hockey before Fall or Winter 2020.

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