Gary Bettman set to unveil 24-team NHL playoff format if play resumes

By | May 26, 2020

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to announce the league’s return-to-play format Tuesday afternoon.

Bettman is set to make a televised address at 4:30 p.m. ET about what hockey will look like if the NHL can resume the season this summer. That means a 24-team straight-to-playoffs format with the league’s other seven teams having their seasons ended.

The NHL Players’ Association voted last week to approve the 24-team format proposed by the Return to Play committee. It involves the top four teams in each conference playing a mini-tournament for seeding, while the other 16 face off in best-of-five series to set the field.

There is still no timetable for the resumption of game action or when players can return to team facilities for voluntary workouts.

WATCH | NHL players approve 24-team playoff proposal:

The NHL Players’ Association has authorized “further negotiations” on a 24-team playoff format as the league bids to resume the 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup. Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports 6:02

The league, which was forced to pause its season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, released a memo Monday announcing it’s targeting early next month as the start date for Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol, including the opening of practice rinks and allowing small, voluntary group workouts on and off the ice.

“It has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last,” the memo read. “We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties.”

The plan includes:

  • If the Phase 2 plan gets the green light, on-ice sessions will be non-contact and involve up to six players, who will be expected to maintain physical distancing at all times. 
  • “Face coverings [cloth or surgical-type mask] shall be worn at all times — other than while exercising — when entering or leaving the club facility and while inside the club facility where social distancing cannot be maintained,” the memo read. “Players are not required to wear face coverings when they are exercising or on the ice.”
  • Teams are also not allowed to require a player to return to a club’s home city to complete any necessary quarantine measures before the workouts begin.
  • Coaches and management will be allowed to watch, but not participate in, the informal skates.

WATCH | How the NHL’s Phase 2 plan will work:

The league released a 21 page document that covered everything from COVID-19 testing to travel. Rob Pizzo breaks down what you need to know from the release.  2:31

The final two phases of the return-to-play protocol — training camps followed by a resumption of game action — were not mentioned in the memo. Phase 1, which continues after a number of extensions, saw players advised to self-quarantine after the novel coronavirus paused most of the sports world some 10 weeks ago.

Should the NHL return sometime this summer, it’s almost certain teams will be clustered in hub cities across North America — Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Las Vegas are believed to be in the mix — with games being held in empty arenas.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1893, save for 1919 because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005 when a lockout led to the cancellation of the entire campaign.

WATCH | What would hockey in empty arenas look like?:

If (and when) hockey comes back, we know that fans will not be there. Rob Pizzo looks at what teams this may hurt the most. 2:24

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