UPDATE: 2:23 p.m.: According to TSN reporter Pierre LeBrun, the NHLPA set a 7 p.m. conference call with all 31 player representatives to discuss or approve the 24-team NHL return to play scenario. The group could approve the format on the spot, reject it, or ask for time to consult with their teammates.
The NHL will follow an agreement with a timeline to move to Phase 2 of the NHL return to play scenario. Phase 2 is the opening of practice facilities for small group workouts.
No dates for the playoffs or sites have yet been finalized, those details may quickly follow once the sides officially agree to the 24-team format.
Will anyone dare say no?
*And here we go. The NHL return could enter formal discussions over a 24-team playoff format as early as Thursday, according to a report from Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman. The NHL and NHLPA met all weekend and discussions continued this week until the 24-team NHL playoff format was all but assured.
As part of the 24-team format, the top two teams in each division will get a bye. The remainder of the teams will play a best of five play-in series based on bracketed seedlings.
5th seed vs. 12th seed.
6th seed vs. 11th seed.
And so on.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference, so under the format which could be presented to the NHLPA for approval, the Penguins would draw Carey Price and the 12th seeded Montreal Canadiens.
According to the New York Post, the possibility of facing the Montreal goalie in a best-of-three series substantively changed discussions this week; no team wanted the task of beating Price in a micro three-game series.
The fear of Carey Price. So, the Penguins in all likelihood will indeed draw the fearsome goalie behind the worst team in the playoffs in a five-game series instead of three. Montreal traded away Ilya Kovalchuk, Marco Scandella, and Nate Thompson at the trade deadline and trailed the second wild-card by 10 points.
The winner will play the Philadelphia Flyers. Last month, Penguins assistant coach Mark Recchi said the Penguins were preparing for a “dog fight” with Philadelphia, but that was before the introduction of the play-in series.
It’s not immediately clear if the NHL will reset the games played to an equal number, 68, which would jostle the lower seedings, but it seems to be a given.
Eastern Conference Playoff Matchups:
In the Eastern Conference, with equalizing games played, sixth-seeded Carolina will draw the New York Rangers, who was also a seller at the trade deadline.
The seventh-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2004 will face the gritty 10 seed, Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s a terrible matchup for Toronto, as Columbus will be healthy and is still a thumping team-first squad. Columbus also got their first-ever playoff series win last season when they swept Tampa Bay in Round One.
The New York Islanders get the talented but soft Florida Panthers in the 8 vs. 9 series.
Western Conference Playoff Matchups
The Edmonton Oilers, who sweater the top two scorers in the NHL, will find themselves in a similar position as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Edmonton will draw the second-worst team in the playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 11th seeded Arizona Coyotes will make the playoffs with head coach Rick Tocchet. Arizona with Phil Kessel and Tocchet gets the sixth-seeded Nashville Predators. Both Tocchet and Kessel were part of the 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup victory over Nashville.
Vancouver will get Minnesota as the 7 vs. 10 series and former Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin’s Minnesota Wild will snag a five-game series against Winnipeg.
If the NHL return-to-play committee does approve the format as set forth by Friedman, the next steps will be official presentations by each side their membership for approval. While it is assumed the proposal will be approved, it could take a few days and at least one agent cautioned our sister site Boston Hockey Now that approval will not be a slam dunk.
Friedman cautioned the NHL return is not yet a done deal but could be a principle agreement today, pending membership votes.