Hockey is (almost) back.
The NHLPA Executive Board authorized further negotiations with the NHL on the league’s “return to play” plan late Friday night. The plan’s format would be an expanded 24-team playoff to determine the 2019-20 Stanley Cup champion.
“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,” a statement from the NHLPA said. “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.”
In the 24-team playoff format, the top four seeds in each conference, based on points percentage, qualify for “first-round” byes to begin the postseason. The next eight teams in the Eastern and Western conferences would then play in a best-of-five “play-in” round of the playoffs.
The top four teams in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia) and the top four in the Western Conference (St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, and Vegas) would play each other to determine the top four seeds while the opening “play-in” round took place for the Eastern and Western seeds five through twelve.
A look at the opening round of the Eastern Conference:
• 5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal – winner plays the four seed
• 6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers – winner plays the three seed
• 7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida – winner plays the two seed
• 8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus – winner plays the one seed
Here is the opening round of the Western Conference:
• 5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago – winner plays the four seed
• 6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona – winner plays the three seed
• 7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota – winner plays the two seed
• 8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg – winner plays the one seed
There is the chance that the return to play format could change once the dust settles, as reported by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun:
Even with this affirmative vote, there are still some details with the 24-team playoff format still to be worked out between the NHL and NHLPA. One of them is whether they'll go ahead with a playoff bracket or use reseeding.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 23, 2020
To recap: the NHLPA has agreed to the format itself even though there are other important issues and elements to negotiate. The NHL now will go through its own process and I would expect some form of announcement within the next few days.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 23, 2020
The timeline for the NHL to return to play still is undetermined. Important factors like testing, travel, hub cities, etc. are all under consideration. The most important thing the NHL and the NHLPA must ensure is the health and safety of the players, coaches, team personnel, and all those involved in the hosting of the games when the league does return to the ice.
Until then, this is a hopeful step forward for the NHL and hockey fans alike.