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NHLPA board approves league’s plan for 24-team playoffs upon coronavirus return

The National Hockey League Players’ Association executive board voted to approve a 24-team, conference-based playoff format for a potential restart of the 2019-20 NHL season this summer.

“The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play,” the union said in a statement.

Under the plan, the top four seeds in each conference, as determined by their standings points percentage when the regular season was paused on March 12, would receive byes through a round of best-of-five play-in series featuring seeds 5 through 12. Those play-in series would determine which teams advance to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket, which would have seven-game series.

The NHLPA board had what was described by a source as a “long, intense” conference call Thursday night to discuss the format, and a vote was conducted over the next 24 hours.

The full NHLPA board was involved in the vote — including the 24 teams that would advance to the playoffs and the seven non-playoff teams whose seasons would be over by adopting the plan. The format was created by the joint “Return To Play” committee that included NHL executives and a panel of players.

The next step is the NHL signing off on the NHLPA’s approved format. A joint announcement on the format could come in the next few days. The NHL is expected to move forward on announcing plans for the NHL draft lottery and the draft itself after this playoff format is announced. It has not been determined when and how players will be able to return to their training facilities.

Approval of the playoff format shouldn’t be confused with the players’ formal approval of the season restarting. It addresses only the structure of the postseason if teams return to the ice. There are still major issues on which the players and NHL have to find common ground, including where the games will be played and how players will be tested for COVID-19.

The players’ approved playoff plan would temporarily replace the divisional wild-card format the league has used since 2013 with two conference tournaments of 12 teams.

Under the proposed format, the seeding and play-in series would be as follows:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: Boston Bruins (1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2), Washington Capitals (3), Philadelphia Flyers (4)
Play-in series: 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)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: St. Louis Blues (1), Colorado Avalanche (2), Vegas Golden Knights (3), Dallas Stars (4)
Play-in series: 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)

Though the NHL’s version of the plan had the teams bracketed, there was a push among some of the players to reseed the teams after the first round. This will be a point of further negotiation.

Those top four teams in each conference won’t sit idly by. The format calls for these teams to face one another to remain sharp ahead of the next round of the playoffs — which had been a concern from the players. The top four teams would essentially play some form of a round-robin tournament that would potentially reseed them before the round of 16.

Fans will not be allowed at the games, and logistics remain a work in progress.

The NHL probably will utilize only two “hub” cities for its restart from the coronavirus pandemic if the proposed playoff format is adopted, an NHL source told ESPN. The NHL explored using four “hub” arena sites for the restart. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that eight or nine locations are under consideration. Las Vegas is widely considered to be a favorite.

Expanding the Stanley Cup playoffs from 16 to 24 teams has been favored by the NHL as an equitable solution for teams that were near the playoff bubble when the season was paused. For example, only four points separated the now-11th-seeded Coyotes from the final wild-card spot, and they had 12 games left in the season.

The NHLPA, however, has expressed reservations about an expanded playoff format. Predators forward Matt Duchene said this week that he would like to see a more traditional format.

“I believe let’s keep it as traditional as possible. I’d love to see us jump to a 16-team playoff,” Duchene said on Sportsnet 590, warning that too much gimmickry in the playoff format would be detrimental. “You don’t want to have a ‘COVID Cup,’ and I’m worried that if we force this thing and try and it’s a little gimmicky and it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is gonna have people try to take it away from them for their whole lives, and guys don’t deserve that.”

Sports report

Categories
NHL

NHLPA board voting on 24-team, conference-based playoff format

The NHL Players’ Association’s executive board started voting Thursday on a proposed 24-team, conference-based playoff format for a potential restart to the 2019-20 season this summer. Results of the voting could be available as early as Friday night.

The playoffs would be conference-based and would remain bracketed, replacing the divisional wild-card format the league has used since 2013. The top four seeds, as determined by their standings points percentage when the regular season was paused, would receive byes through a round of best-of-five play-in series that would feature seeds 5 through 12.

Those play-in series would determine which teams advance to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket, which would have seven-game series.

The NHL likely will utilize only two “hub” cities for its restart from the coronavirus pandemic if the proposed playoff format is approved by the league and the NHLPA, an NHL source told ESPN. The NHL explored using four “hub” arena sites for the restart. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that eight or nine locations are under consideration.

Fans will not be allowed at the games, and logistics remain a work in progress.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a perfect scenario where everyone’s super excited about,” Nashville’s Ryan Johansen told The Associated Press earlier Thursday. “As long as everybody can agree and be happy with the decision that will be made, that’s really all that matters.”

The NHLPA executive committee met Thursday to discuss the format and other return-to-play issues. When asked about the proposed format and the hub-city plan, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN in an email, “I’m not aware of any agreement yet. Don’t want to jump the gun on anything.”

The proposed format also would have the top four seeds participating in a three-game tournament during the play-in round, thereby alleviating concerns from top teams that they could be rusty and facing sharper teams coming off first-round games. It hasn’t been determined if the mini-tournament among the top four conference teams will have an impact on seeding.

After the opening round, the No. 4 seed in each conference would face the winner of the matchup between the Nos. 5 and 12 seeds, with the No. 3 seed meeting the winner of the 6-11 matchup. The No. 2 seed would play the winner of the play-in series between the Nos. 7 and 10 seeds, with the conference’s top seed awaiting the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series.

Under the proposed format, the seeding and play-in series would be as follows:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: Boston Bruins (1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2), Washington Capitals (3), Philadelphia Flyers (4)

Play-in series: 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)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: St. Louis Blues (1), Colorado Avalanche (2), Vegas Golden Knights (3), Dallas Stars (4)

Play-in series: 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)

Expanding the Stanley Cup playoffs from 16 to 24 teams has been favored by the NHL as an equitable solution for teams that were near the playoff bubble when the season was paused. For example, just four points separated the now-11th-seeded Coyotes from the final wild-card spot, and they had 12 games remaining in the season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Sports report