Inclusion instead of exclusion. Easier to say acquiesce, than fight. The NHLPA and NHL return to play committee has reportedly finalized a 24-team NHL playoff format, which will feature byes for the top four teams and play-in series for everyone else. Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite a third-place division finish well ahead of the wild-card race, will draw the lowly but dangerous Montreal Canadiens in a play-in series.
Only approval remains. The NHLPA has a conference call set for 7 p.m, in which they could vote on the 24-team NHL return scenario. The ball is in their court.
They could also reject it, but that seems unlikely.
This will be the closest thing to an open tournament for the Stanley Cup since 1915. Before then, the Cup was awarded to the top amateur teams through league play and challenge games. Professional teams couldn’t win the Stanley Cup until 1906, but I digress.
More teams will vie for the Cup this season than existed in 1992. The NHL didn’t have 26 teams until 1993, but again, I digress.
No one is yet on the record why the NHL return to play scenario evolved from a traditional 16-team playoff format with some regular-season games, which would have functioned as a play-in tournament for bubble teams, to a 24-team battle royale.
It would take something special to get teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins or Edmonton Oilers, to agree to their own potential demise. A team like the Penguins has earned more than the possibility to work for a month on a comeback only to have it end in a short series against a non-playoff team. If they’re going to get bounced, it should be in a seven-game series against a playoff team.
But the reasons written on the wall are pretty clear.