Written by Chris Kubala
It’s been what seems like an eternity for the league but the NHL has been aggressive in trying to get back on the ice. The league has been on pause since March 12 with teams still having in the neighborhood of a dozen or so games remaining in the regular season. Commissioner Gary Bettman has been intent on ensuring that the league was going to return and crown a champion this season, come hell or high water. Talks have intensified in recent weeks and proposals have gone back and forth. As it stands, we’ve moved closer to the league’s return thanks to the latest turn of events.
On Friday night, the NHLPA Executive Board voted and approved the league’s proposal to return to play with a 24-team playoff format with the top 12 teams in each conference battling it out. According to a report from TVA’s Renaud Lowe, the vote on the matter passed by a hefty 29-2 margin. The statement from the NHLPA said the following about the vote for returning to play:
"The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to playformat 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."
Under that format, the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers would earn the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh would take on Montreal in the 5/12 matchup, Carolina would battle the Rangers in the 6/11 matchup, the Islanders would clash with Florida in the 7/10 series while Toronto and Columbus would fill the 8/9 bracket. In the Western Conference, the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars would own the top four seeds and be in the 16-team field. Edmonton would lock up with Chicago in the 5/12 series, Nashville would tangle with Arizona in the 6/11 matchup, Vancouver would battle Minnesota in the 7/10 set and Calgary would lock up with Winnipeg in the 8/9 series between the teams.
The play-in round with teams seeded fifth through 12th would meet in best of five series with the winners advancing to face the top four seeds. Those teams would compete in a mini three-game tournament to give them some game action leading into the postseason. Once the play-in round is complete, the remaining 16 teams would compete in regular best of seven game formats that we’re accustomed to seeing.
There are things that still need to be worked out but getting the approval of the Executive Board of the NHLPA was a big step in the right direction. The sides still have to figure out the venues for the games, be it two, four or more hubs to try and get back on the ice. There have been reports that Las Vegas and Columbus are favorites though cities like Edmonton and Toronto could be a factor as well. How testing for COVID-19 will be done and how often is another potential sticking point. As it stands though, another hurdle has been cleared at this point and the league is trending in the right direction to return to the ice sometime in July. Hopefully, Bettman can maintain that momentum and get the NHL going again in order to hand out the Stanley Cup to conclude the season.