Momentum seems to be building for the NHL to at least have a plan in place to resume its season. The specifics and logistics of when, where and how to do it safely amid the coronavirus pandemic that has put the season on hold since March 12 remain unknown.
According to reports, including Sportsnet and ESPN, the “Return to Play Committee” — comprised of officials from the league and players’ union — has been discussing a 24-team, conference-based playoff setup to finish the season. Normally 16 teams advance to the playoffs.
In this format, the top four teams from each conference in terms of points percentage (points divided by possible points) would receive byes during what is considered the “play-in” round. The playoff bracket would pit the fifth seed against the 12th, the No. 6 seed against the 11th, and so on.
Seedings would be determined within each conference instead of the current divisional wild-card format, according to ESPN and Sportsnet. The play-in round would be a best-of-five, while the rest of the playoffs would be best-of-seven. According to these reports, the “bye” teams would start with a three-game tournament in order to stay sharp, though it’s unclear if it will affect seeding.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN on Monday that up to nine cities are being considered as playing “hubs” if the season resumes, though only two will likely be picked. There will be no fans in the arenas.
The 24-team plan still has to be approved by the union and league. It is uncertain when and if that will happen. According to ESPN, the NHLPA is set to meet Thursday. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN on Wednesday, “I’m not aware of any agreement yet. Don’t want to jump the gun on anything.”
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