Just a week ago, the NHL and NHLPA seemed mired in talk without end. Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby who carries significant gravitas admitted there weren’t many answers yet. Seven days later, the NHL return to play committee completed work on a 24-team playoff format which the committe put in the hands of the NHLPA on Thursday night.
The conference call began at 7 p.m. Sportsnet reported at 9:30 p.m. that the NHLPA began voting. Voting is expected to finish on Friday.
Now, we wait.
The NHL paused the season on March 12 as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic reached North America. After hunkering down for several weeks, in late April the league formed the NHL return to play committee which included NHL executives, NHLPA executives, and five current players including John Tavares and former Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey.
After intense meetings over the past week, momentum gathered around the 24-team format, and on Thursday, it became an official proposal.
The 24-team NHL playoff format will provide a bye to the top two teams in each division. If approved, the remaining eight teams in each conference will drop the puck in a five-game play-in series. Preliminary talks debated a three-game series, but fears over a goalie such as Carey Price stealing a short series from a superior team such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, pushed both sides towards a five-game set.
Wednesday night, Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman reported an official proposal was possible on Thursday. By midday Thursday, TSN reporter, Pierre LeBrun reported the proposal would be put to all 31 NHLPA representatives during the conference call.
The proposed format will seed the teams based on winning percentages. However, the top four seeds are not yet concrete. According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the teams which earned the byes will play each other while the play-in series occur. Those games between the top teams will matter, so seedings could change, if that provision is approved.
There are still moving parts according to all published reports which have alternated between Sportsnet, TSN, and Pierre LeBrun who doubles with TSN and The Athletic.
Whispers exist some NHLPA representatives are in favor of expanding the byes beyond the top four teams. There have been further whispers the Penguins weren’t overly pleased with their assignment in a short series. Sidney Crosby said last week he hoped the Stanley Cup playoffs would be four rounds of seven-game series.
The current proposal falls short of Crosby’s hope, but it will provide additional avenues of revenue by including large markets Chicago and Montreal in the 24-team format. Under the proposed format, the Pittsburgh Penguins will face Montreal Canadiens in their play-in series. Montreal has the lowest point total (71) of all 24 teams and were 10 points behind the second wild-card when the NHL season paused on March 12.
PHN already broke down the potential Penguins vs. Montreal series from all angles. Check it out.
There are additional details to be worked out, but the framework will be approved or rejected by Friday night. The NHL reportedly hopes to announce Phase 2, which will allow team facilities to open for small group workouts shortly after approval. Choosing hub cities may take longer.
The NHLPA's Executive Board is taking a vote on the 24-team return-to-play format proposal. The vote is ongoing and results aren't expected until tomorrow.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 22, 2020