Professional sports leagues are being forced to get creative to get back to playing, and the NHL could be changing up their playoff format for this season. The NHL and the NHL Players Association are reportedly discussing a new playoff format that would see 24 teams make the field.
Not only would the playoffs be expanded from 16 to 24 teams, but those 24 teams would be the only teams that returned to action this season. Playoffs would also be conducted in a conference format rather than by divisions like it has been done over the last few years.
Players and team executives are eager to return to hockey after suspending the regular season on March 12, but it appears that heading straight into the playoffs will be the best solution. Some hockey experts believe that the league is hoping to expand playoffs to include the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks.
The top four seeds in each conference would receive a first-round bye, while seeds 5-12 would compete in a best-of-five play-in series. After the play-in round, the rest of the playoffs would look very similar to how it has been played over the last few years.
Each conference is likely to be relocated to one “hub” location to complete the playoffs quickly and avoid travel issues. It is unclear how the league will go about determining where the Stanley Cup Finals will be played.
The NHLPA Executive Committee is set to meet on Thursday and discuss the proposal that was sent to them by the league. Teams would need at least a few weeks of training camp before the playoffs can be held, but there is still plenty of discussions that need to take place.
Potential Sites Submit Bid to Host Games
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league had received close to 15 different bids from markets that are hoping to host NHL games when play resumes. On Monday, Bettman told ESPN that the league had narrowed the list down to eight or nine sites.
The sites would have to accommodate close to 12 teams at one location and be able to host enough games in a timely fashion. Even though the league has yet to officially announce a plan to return to action, relocating teams will be a part of that plan.
Sources have not been able to come up with the entire list of cities that have submitted a bid, but it appears that there are five key frontrunners. Las Vegas, Minnesota, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver appear to have emerged as potential landing spots.
Bettman noted that fans want to see a Stanley Cup awarded this season, and that is the clear intention of the league. Even though it sounds like most people around the league are optimistic, there is still plenty of uncertainty when it comes to finishing the season.
The NHL would be able to finish the season in a timely manner if they moved a large number of teams to one location. There could be multiple games held each day, and all of these games would take place without fans in attendance.
One thing that does need to happen is that the league must secure enough tests to routinely test both players and game day personnel. Everyone involved with the league would also be forced to relocate to one location and live in a hotel.
There have been several states throughout the country that have loosened their restrictions when it comes to the pandemic, giving the NHL additional options. Travel restrictions are still in place in the United States, and it could be difficult to move teams to Canada.