It seems the NHL has landed on its preferred return to play format amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and has essentially lobbed the ball into the players’ court.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Wednesday night that the NHL and NHLPA are working away at the details of a 24-team, conferenced-based tournament that will see to a conclusion on the 2019-20 season.
A timeline on when the resumption of play could return is still unknown.
According to this format, the top four seeds in each conference will automatically advance into the traditional 16-team structure, while the remaining 16 teams will compete in a play-in round to determine the Stanley Cup playoffs bracket. Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia earned those top-four slots in the Eastern Conference based on points percentage while St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas will skip past the play-in round in the Western Conference.
According to Friedman, these eight teams will take part in some exhibition games in order to stay sharp (or as sharp as possible) while the remaining teams compete for the opportunity to meet them in the next round.
It’s believed that two hub cities will be used, one for each conference.
Expanded by 50 percent, the postseason structure will allow for teams that had virtually no shot at qualifying to enter the tournament. All-but eliminated before the season was paused, Chicago and Montreal will be the 12th seeds in their respective conferences and take on the fifth-seeded Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins — two teams that might have the most to complain about given the structure of the proposed tournament.
It’s expected that the play-in round will feature best-of-five series, while the remaining rounds will abide by the traditional best-of-seven structure.
Here’s the full slate of matchups for the opening round under the 24-team plan (based on points percentage):
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)
Top seeds: Boston (1), Tampa Bay (2), Washington (3), Philadelphia (4)
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)
Top seeds: St. Louis (1), Colorado (2), Vegas (3), Dallas (4)
While the NHL is reverting back to a system that doesn’t restrict matchups based on division, there are no plans to re-seed after the play-in round. Rather, it will adhere to a bracket format with the No. 1s taking on the winner of the No. 8-No. 9 matchups regardless of the results of the other series, as per Friedman.
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