It could be music to many ears this week as the NHL and NHLPA push towards an agreement on the NHL return to play scenarios and hope to make an announcement this week. The positive news came from Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman via the Tim and Sid Sportsnet radio show.
The details of the playoff format are still sketchy. Will the league lineup the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins and 12th seed Montreal Canadiens in a three-game play-in, as part of a 24-team tournament? That seems unfair on every level as the Penguins currently hold an automatic playoff spot by virtue of their third-place standing, and Montreal was a seller at the NHL trade deadline and well out of the wild-card race.
That possibility and the inherent unfairness to all teams are issues with which the two sides are grappling. According to Friedman, the players proposed exhibition games, so all teams had a running start, but the league has pushed back on that.
“I believe the league and the players are really trying to finalize what the playoffs could look like,” Friedman said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a big part of the conversation, and we hear an answer, and I know the hope is to do it early to mid (this) week.”
As PHN has noted, the timeline from agreement to games is probably close to six weeks.
Wouldn’t it make much more sense for the NHL return to have three-game play-in series among the top four wild-card contenders in each conference and properly reward the third-place teams? That would be a 20-team playoff, and it would also avoid including teams, such as Chicago and Montreal, which packed up at the trade deadline and fell out of contention.
“We all know the top-seeded teams don’t want byes. Don’t want them. The players suggested maybe a few warmup games early to solve that problem,” the reporter said. “But the league’s point, which I think is fair, is we won’t have a lot of time. We can’t worry about playing games which won’t matter.”
“The league wanted, to make sure these top teams aren’t sitting for too long, to play a best two-out-of-three first round. I heard the players didn’t like that.”
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby who spoke with TSN last week, echoed that sentiment when he openly said the Stanley Cup should be at least four rounds of best-of-seven game series.
While the players don’t like the best of three, Friedman believes they suggested a best of five opening series, which the league wasn’t crazy about.
“I think they’re struggling with how to get everybody playing meaningful games as quick as possible,” Friedman said. “…I would expect (this week) we’ll know Plan A, but I expect they’re always working on what Plans B and C are.”
The NHL paused their season on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. NASCAR will be the first major North American sports league to resume play on Sunday. Indycar will return on June 6. Baseball is working towards an early July season opener. All leagues have moved forward without attending fans.
As part of the NHL return, Friedman also gave his opinions on the additional Canadian quarantine rules, which would require players to quarantine for an additional two weeks before resuming activity. He believes such rules would prevent games from being played in Canada.
You can view the entire segment on Sportsnet here.
UPDATE, 11:30 a.m.:
Sources indicate the Return To Play Committee has talked throughout the weekend, NHL-NHLPA making progress on a 24-team format. Sources also stressing there's still work to be done, but clearly the weekend has produced some traction. More talks expected over next day or two.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 17, 2020