Ideas are all over the place about the NHL returning to play and, as expected, there is nothing concrete. We don’t know when or how the league will return to action.
But we do know that the NHL and NHLPA are discussing a few formats for a return to play, with the lead idea right now a 24-team, “conference-based” playoff for a restart.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the playoffs would remain bracketed and would therefore rule out the existing “wild card” format based on divisional play. Furthermore, the top four seeds in each conference would receive byes in the first round. The seeds will be determined by the standings when NHL action was paused in March.
That puts the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference as the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers. In the Western Conference, we’re looking at the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars.
It’s been argued that those teams would play in a three-game tournament of sorts to “get some action,” but that may not have any bearing on the playoff standings.
For the rest of the way, in comes the bracketing system.
“That means, in both conferences 5 vs. 12 (winner plays four seed), 6 vs. 11 (winner plays three seed), 7 vs. 10 (winner plays two seed) and 8 vs. 9 (winner plays one seed),” writes Friedman.
Called a “play-in series,” this playoff system would be required to set the stage for the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket. The play-in series would be a best-of-five setup, while the traditional playoffs would be best-of-seven.
This setup will be voted on by the NHLPA as early as Thursday as they meet to discuss this and other return to play issues.
This follows the discussion about hub cities hosting the games. At this point, the league may only require two hub cities to house the 24 teams – 12 per city. At one point, it was believed eight or nine hub cities would be required but this format makes a smaller cluster possible if scheduling is done right.
As expected, fans will not be allowed at the games. Logistical issues still have to be sorted out as well, but this discussion does inch us closer to hockey.