The NHL return to Play format has been finalized, according to TSN reporter Pierre LeBrun. The NHL and NHLPA previously agreed to a unique 24-team NHL playoffs format in which the top four seeds of each conference earned byes, and the bottom eight seeds engage in a five-game Qualifying Round. The Pittsburgh Penguins will face the Montreal Canadiens in that QR.
Thursday afternoon, LeBrun reported the two sides finalized the dangling details of the tournament format. For all purposes, the Qualifying Round is not considered the NHL playoffs. However, the following four rounds, including Round One and Round Two will be best-of-seven series.
There was some question and debate if the sides would elect to have early rounds played as a best-of-five set. Penguins NHLPA rep Kris Letang said publicly last week that he preferred seven games series for the NHL playoffs.
Also, the two sides agreed to re-seeded the teams after each round. In layman’s terms, that means each round of the NHL playoffs will feature the highest-seeded team remaining against the lowest-seeded team remaining. The sides scrapped the idea of set brackets.
The top four teams in each conference do get a bye. However, at the behest of the players, those teams will play each other in a round-robin tournament. Regular season records will not count, and the round-robin games will determine each team’s seed. The NHL will use regular-season winning percentage as the tie breaker.
For example, the Boston Bruins had the best record in the Eastern Conference (and the NHL). Still, they could slip to the number four seed based on the round-robin results, and the Philadelphia Flyers who would be the fourth seed, based on their record, could improve to the top overall seed.
TSN reporter Darren Dreger also helped to break the story.
As we’ve speculated this week. 24 NHL team format will include best of 5 Qualifying rounds. All four rounds of the playoffs best of 7’s, reseeding after each round. Highest seed vs lowest seed in each conference.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 4, 2020
The NHL has not yet announced dates for its move to the NHL Return to Play Phase 2, which will include small group workouts of no more than six players but no coaches at team facilities. There is rampant speculation the NHL could announce those dates as early as Friday.
Following Phase 2, will be the NHL Return Phase 3, which is training camps.
The NHL has not yet selected its two hub cities. The NHL listed Pittsburgh and Columbus as the only two Eastern Conference cities located in the United States, among the list of 10 cities under consideration.