The NHL appears to be focusing on a 24-team, conference-based playoffs that would include both the Islanders and Rangers if play is able to resume.
TSN reported the league is waiting to hear back from the NHL Players’ Association, which met on Thursday night, on a model that would include games at two hub cities with 12 teams making the playoffs from each conference. The NHLPA Executive Board conducted a vote on Thursday night, with the results possibly known by Friday night.
Under the plan, as reported by Sportsnet on Wednesday night, the top four teams in each conference would receive a first-round bye but play a three-game round-robin to determine the final standings. The next eight teams would be pitted in a best-of-five series to play in for a 16-team playoff bracket.
All subsequent series would be best-of-sevens.
The top 12 teams in each conference would be determined by point percentage. All 31 teams had played between 68 and 71 games when play was halted on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the play-in round, the fifth seeded team would meet No. 12, with the winner moving on to face the fourth seed. No. 6 would play No. 11, with the winner facing the third seed, No. 7 would meet No. 10 with the winner facing the second seed and the eighth-seed would play the ninth seed with the winner playing the first seed.
Under this proposal, the seventh-seeded Islanders would face the No. 10 Florida Panthers in the first round with the winner facing the second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 11th seeded Rangers would face the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes with that winner meeting the third-seeded Washington Capitals.
Nothing has been finalized but the belief is the NHL and NHLPA would like to announce a final decision on plans to resume play by next week.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said play could resume either in July or August and the start of the 2020-21 season could be pushed back to December.
A source told Newsday on May 9 that the NHL had narrowed its options to two plans for returning to play.
One model the source outlined matches this 24-team plan, with the top four teams playing for playoff seeding and the bottom teams playing postseason play-in games. The other model being considered was for 16 teams heading straight into the playoffs. The source said the timing of when play could be resumed would likely determine which model was ultimately used.
There are health and logistical issues confronting any of the NHL’s efforts to re-start play. The league’s players and personnel are still under a self-quarantine recommendation issued when play was halted. There are still international travel restrictions and any player returning to North America, or even crossing the border from the U.S. to Canada or vice versa, may be required to self-quarantine for an additional two weeks.
On Tuesday, the U.S. and Canada mutually agreed to keep their border closed to non-essential travel through at least June 21. However, that is not expected to keep hockey players and personnel from traveling to report to work.
The players will likely need up to three weeks of a second training camp to safely be able to participate in an NHL game, postseason or otherwise.
The NHL is hoping to be able to re-open its practice facilities to small-group workouts by the end of this month provided health and government officials say it’s safe to do so.
NHL’s Potential Matchups
This is how the 24-team NHL bracket is shaping up, though the top four seeds in each conference may play extra games to determine the final standings for first-round byes:
No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens (winner to face No. 4 Flyers)
No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers (winner to face No. 3 Capitals)
No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers (winner to face No. 2 Lightning)
No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets (winner to face No. 1 Bruins)
No. 5 Oilers vs. No. 12 Blackhawks (winner to face No. 4 Stars)
No. 6 Predators vs. No. 11 Coyotes (winner to face No. 3 Golden Knights)
No. 7 Canucks vs. No. 10 Wild (winner to face No. 2 Avalanche)
No. 8 Flames vs. No. 9 Jets (winner to face No. 1 Blues)