May 22: The NHLPA executive board is expected to approve the return to play proposal, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN. 24 teams will take part in the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, though the announcement of approval is not expected to come with any timeline on when hockey will actually return.
May 21: Even though there are no clear timelines or even a full logistical plan on how it will work, the NHL is getting closer to a format for the resumption of the 2019-20 campaign. Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported last night that the league will be proposing a 24-team “bracketed” playoff structure to the players, perhaps as soon as today. If the players sign off on it, the NHL will finally have a plan in place for what will happen when the season resumes, though there are still countless details to work out about how it would actually take place.
The important questions for fans are which teams would be involved, and what would the matchups look like. Friedman has you covered on both bases, indicating that the tournament would be based on points percentage and have a play-in round between seeds 5-12 in each conference. That means the Boston Bruins (1st in East), Tampa Bay Lightning (2nd), Washington Capitals (3rd), Philadelphia Flyers (4th), St. Louis Blues (1st in West), Colorado Avalanche (2nd), Vegas Golden Knights (3rd) and Dallas Stars (4th) would all have “byes” for the play-in round, but would also participate in a three-game tournament (the details of which are not clear.)
According to Friedman, thee play-in round would look like this:
5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays four seed)
6. Carolina vs. 11. Rangers (winner plays three seed)
7. Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays two seed)
8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays one seed)
5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago (winner plays four seed)
6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona (winner plays three seed)
7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota (winner plays two seed)
8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg (winner plays one seed)
That round would be a best-of-five with best-of-seven series to follow, and the playoffs would not include re-seeding at any point. As Johnston points out in his talk with Arash Madani of Sportsnet, that would allow for a sort of March Madness-style bracket system that could be very exciting for fans.
As with any plan from the NHL right now, it is important to remember that this is just a proposal and is still contingent on the advice and recommendations of medical professionals across North America. The league will not be coming back without sufficient testing and a plan in place to keep their athletes, support staff, and the public safe. In fact, Johnston tweeted yesterday that the proposal “does not cover other critical issues, such as testing protocols, hub cities, visas and many other things.”
There is still a lot of work to be done.