NHL, players agree on playoff format

The NHL and its players agreed to a 24-team playoff format for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The two sides shook Thursday on the deal, which includes a best-of-five format for the qualifying round before shifting to the traditional best-of-seven series format.

The league halted play on March 12 amid the coronavirus pandemic, and commissioner Gary Bettman announced last week that the NHL would end its current hiatus with 24 teams resuming play in two hub cities.

Gary Bettman
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Following the qualifying round, all four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven series. The league and the NHLPA also agreed the playoffs would not follow the traditional bracketed format, but instead they will be seeded again after every round.

“While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so,” Bettman said last week. “Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible. And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.”

Also Thursday, the league announced a transition to Phase 2 of its Return to Play Plan, allowing teams to reopen their training facilities starting June 8 to let players return for voluntary workouts. Not a substitute for training camp, Phase 2 gives players a “safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning,” the league said in a statement.

The league is targeting the start of games in late July or early August, but much still must be figured out. That includes the two hub cities, whether family members will be able to join the players in the hub, and measures to combat the coronavirus.

Bettman has said the NHL will test players daily for COVID-19.

NHL hockey puck
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Players will not be required to return to their home cities until training camp begins, which is expected to happen before the middle of next month. The NHL and NHLPA still have not determined how long the training camp will last.

The top four teams in each conference are guaranteed playoff spots, and they will play a single round-robin competition to determine seeding. Meanwhile, teams ranked fifth through 12th in each conference will face off in the qualifying round for the final four spots in each conference’s playoffs.

In the Eastern Conference, that means the Boston Bruins (ranked first), Tampa Bay Lightning (second), Washington Capitals (third) and Philadelphia Flyers (fourth) will receive playoff spots, with round-robin play to determine seeding. The next eight East teams will play in best-of-five series.

East Matchups

  • No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens
  • No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers
  • No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers
  • No. 8 Toronto Blue Jackets vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets

In the West, the St. Louis Blues (first), Colorado Avalanche (second), Vegas Golden Knights (third) and Dallas Stars (fourth) have locked in playoff spots, with round-robin play to determine seeding. The next eight West teams will play best-of-five series.

West Matchups

  • No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks
  • No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes
  • No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild
  • No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)