The NHL season (like many others) was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With other sporting events such as Nascar and Bundesliga returning, the NHL has been discussing a potential return to the season.
"The NHL and NHLPA are working on a 24-team conference-based playoff setup," said Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet journalist . The NHL was postponed with just about three weeks remaining in the season, indicating why the league would go straight into a modified playoff.
The 24-team playoff would solve the issues for teams who were only one or two points behind a wild card spot with games in hand. Here is what is confirmed, "Here's what the player reps for 31 teams agreed to: A 24-team return-to-play format that will see the top four seeds in each conference given byes directly to the playoffs while the other 16 enter a best-of-five play-in round to determine their opponents," said Chris Johnston, Sportsnet analyst.
The top four teams in the East (based on points-percentage) are Boston, Tampa, Washington, and Philadelphia. The top four in the West are St Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas. "They would receive byes through the play-in but participate in a three-game tournament to get some action. The rest of the playoffs would be bracketed. That means, in both conferences, five vs. 12, six vs. 11, seven vs. 10, and eight vs. nine," said Friedman. The "play-in" round would be a best of five, while the rest of the playoffs would be a best of seven.. It is undecided whether the tournament for the teams getting a bye would change anything for their seeding.
The league is looking at the possibility of having two to four hub cities. "Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver have all jockeyed to host the NHL, but federal and provincial quarantine restrictions may limit their bids' viability," said Frank Seravalli, on the possibility of having Canadian hub city. There is no rush for the NHL to name hub cities until they decide when to come back.
With the modified format, the bracket would shape up like this for the East, Toronto and Columbus play a best of five series, and the winner plays Boston. New York Islanders and Florida play a series, and the winner meets Tampa Bay in the first round. Winner of Carolina and New York Rangers play Washington in round one. Pittsburgh and Montreal play, and the winner will play Philadelphia. And for the West, the winner of Calgary and Winnipeg play St Louis. Vancouver and Minnesota play a round, and the winner plays Colorado. Nashville and Arizona play and the winner meets Vegas. Edmonton and Chicago play, and the winner plays Dallas in round one.
"The vote essentially closes the book this season on the bottom seven teams: Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit," said Chris Johnston. Every other team has a shot at the cup.
The number one priority for the league is safety, not just for players but also for all involved. Unfortunately, a Stanley Cup might have to be awarded with no fans in attendance to ensure everyone's safety.
The next question is: When can all this start? "There are those who believe — or hope — we might be seeing NHL games played by the end of July, but that's not something the league or anyone else can say right now with certainty," per Chris Johnston. Just as the confirmed playoff format, it's going to take quite a bit of time and discussion to come to a conclusion. The confirmed playoff format got the wheels rolling. It's time to advance further in the lengthy process of bringing NHL play back.