NHL Ends Regular Season in Favor of 24-Team Playoff Format

The modified postseason tournament will be played in two unidentified hub cities

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A detailed view of the NHL logo on the back of the goal netting. (Scott Taetsch/Getty)
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By Evan Bleier / May 27, 2020 9:28 am

Following an announcement from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman late on Tuesday, we now know how professional hockey will make its return but we still don’t know when. 

Per the parameters of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan, 24 of the league’s 31 teams will return for a modified postseason tournament which will be played in two hub cities. Potential hosts include Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

The format calls for the top four teams in each conference to receive a first-round bye. But, those teams will play a three-game round-robin to determine their final seedings, one through four. The remaining 16 teams will play best-of-five series to determine which eight will advance to the second round to take on the top four seeds.

That format means a team like the Montreal Canadiens — who had almost no chance of making a 16-team playoff field — will now get a shot to make a run in the postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be their first-round opponent, now have to play an extra best-of-five series.

Regardless, Pittsburgh’s NHLPA representative Kris Letang said he voted in favor of the expanded playoff format when it was proposed.

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” he said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game. No matter (who) you play, it’s going to be hard. (If it wasn’t Montreal), it was going to be Washington, or Philadelphia, or a challenge like that. We have a lot of experience, I’ve never heard of an easy series.”

If local shutdown ordinances have been lifted and players have been medically cleared, voluntary practices at team facilities could begin early next month with official training camps kicking off no earlier than July 1. Under the proposed schedule, the season would conclude with the Stanley Cup Final in the early fall.

The whole proposal is predicated on the league being able to test its players with regularity and Bettman said the league could conduct 25,000–30,000 tests during its relaunch.

“We remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff and arena personnel,” Bettman said. “We will not set dates, choose sites or begin to play until we know it is appropriate and prudent and are approved to do so.”

With the regular season now over, the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings are done for the year.

The Boston Bruins, who finished with the league’s best record (44-14-12, 100 points) are the new Presidents’ Trophy Champions.

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