NHL finalizes small format details for 2020 playoffs, which will include Blackhawks

All series after the qualifying round will be best-of-seven, and the matchups will be determined by reseeding instead of a bracket.

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If the Blackhawks advance to the official first round of the playoffs, Thursday’s announcement will make a big difference.

If the Blackhawks advance to the official first round of the playoffs, Thursday’s announcement will make a big difference.

Jeff Roberson/AP

The NHL Players’ Association picked up two small but notable victories Thursday with the announcement of the final details for the revised 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.

A league memo clarified that all series beyond the qualifying round will be standard best-of-seven affairs.

The NHL’s return-to-play announcement May 26 stated that the qualifying round would be a best-of-five and that the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final would be best-of-seven but left the first and second rounds undetermined.

The memo also specified that matchups in each round would be determined by reseeding rather than a preset bracket format.

The top remaining seed will play the lowest remaining seed in each round, regardless of the upsets that occur.

Players had reportedly pushed for both of those details.

Other tiny details, such as tiebreakers for the round-robin tournament between each conference’s top four seeds and the technical home-team rotation at the to-be-determined neutral host arenas, also were announced.

None of the specifics will directly or immediately affect the Blackhawks, who remain locked into a No. 5-vs.-No. 12 qualifying-round matchup against the Oilers.

But if the Hawks get past the talented but inexperienced Oilers —a very real possibility, given the Hawks’ experience and favorable statistical matchups —the newly announced details could come into play.

The reseeding decision would make their next opponent tougher, for starters.

In a bracket format, the fifth seed-12th seed winner would be guaranteed to play the No. 4 seed — in other words, the worst of the four teams (the Blues, Avalanche, Stars and Golden Knights) getting a bye through the qualifying round. But with reseeding, a victorious Hawks team — as the bottom seed in the West — instead would be guaranteed to face the best of those four teams in its next series.

That next series being seven games, instead of five games, also probably works against them.

Statistically, smaller sample sizes create greater variability and a greater likelihood of an upset. So against a superior team, the Hawks would theoretically prefer a shorter series.

They’ll get that wish against the Oilers, but not against their next opponent.

Nothing from the memo drastically changes the outlook for the postseason, though, which was largely determined in the late May announcement and also still entirely depends on the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The Penguins’ announcement that an unidentified player tested positive for COVID-19 — even though the player wasn’t in Pittsburgh and has since recovered — is a clear reminder that the coronavirus will still dictate the fortunes of the NHL’s plans.

NOTE: The NHL also announced it will begin Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan Monday, meaning players will be able to practice in groups of up to six at team facilities.

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