The NHL will return to play later this year with a 24-team playoff format.
Whenever hockey will be allowed to resume this year, we now know what format it will take. On Friday, the NHL came to an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association to resume the season with a 24-team playoff format and a play-in round, which was then publicly announced by Gary Bettman and the rest of the league on Tuesday.
This format will forgo the rest of the 2019-20 regular season — which has now been completed — in favor of adding eight additional hockey teams to the mix for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The seven teams that will miss the expanded playoff format are: the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.
This 24-team format has been in the mix for months now, as it was the prevailing idea across the league since it was first brought up in mid-March. The idea behind the format is to give teams on the playoff bubble a chance and to give the league’s biggest markets a financial bump for at least a little while longer.
How the NHL’s 24-team playoff format will work
Under this format, the NHL will split the teams by conference, then give the top four teams in each conference a bye past the play-in rounds. The remaining 16 teams will play a play-in round while the top four teams play for seeding. According to this nice visual from Sportsnet, this is how the format will be set up.
According to McKenzie’s report, it seems as if the decision wasn’t an easy one, as various players have differing views on how the league should return. The league wasn’t going to please everyone with a playoff format, and this one certainly has its flaws, but it seems as if the league and the majority of its players want to return to hockey in any way possible.
The NHL is also mum on giving a timetable for this return to play, which makes sense, given the state of things. According to David Pagnotta, the league is possibly targeting an early-July training camp with a late-July restart if everything goes right.
The league has also yet to state how it will handle safety regulations for the likely two hub cities in which hockey will be played. There is still a lot of work to be done for the NHL to properly return to play later this year, but this agreement on the playoff format is a good first step.
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