With one eye on playing a full 82-game season in 2020-21, the NHL has adopted a 24-team playoff format to finish the 2019-20 campaign. The league and players have agreed to abandon the remainder of the regular season and head straight into the postseason, should a return be allowed.
“As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day for NHL fans,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “Since March 12, we’ve been hopeful and optimistic that by developing all options and alternatives, we could get to this point. I know I join sports fans everywhere when I say we cannot wait for the players to hit the ice again.”
The plan for a return to the ice is not yet set in stone, as the NHL must determine where to play, finalize health and safety protocols, and make other arrangements before the season can continue.
And while the league and players have agreed to the 24-team playoff, the NHL Players Association is yet to officially approve the arrangement.
“There’s an ongoing ‘If’ question,” said NHLPA executive director Don Fehr. “But you have to do this in stages. There’s never been any dispute that this can’t go forward unless the health and safety of everyone involved is protected.”
Ten Cities Being Considered For Two Playoff ‘Hubs’
With the regular season now effectively over, the NHL is now focused on getting back on the ice to conclude the season via the 24-team playoff, which was approved by the NHLPA in a preliminary 29-2 vote. Representatives from the Lightning and Hurricanes were the two outliers.
Now the league must determine where it will carry out the postseason, which will be held in empty stadiums of two hub cities. Teams will be split based on the conference format of the playoffs.
At this stage, 10 cities are being considered by the NHL:
- Los Angeles
- Las Vegas
That list could soon be whittled down, as the NHL could scrap the possibility of hosting in any Canadian cities due to Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Unique First Round Before Traditional Stanley Cup Playoff
Before making it to 16 teams, allowing the NHL to continue with its traditional Stanley Cup Playoff format, 24 teams will take part in a unique opening round.
The top four seeds in each conference will receive a bye in the first round, but they’ll participate in a round-robin tournament to determine seeding moving forward. Should teams finish with even records, the better seed will go to the team with the higher regular-season points percentage.
The top four teams in the Eastern Conference are the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, and Flyers. The top four teams in the Western Conference are the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars.
The remainder of the postseason field will take part in five-game series to determine who will make it to the 16-team playoff field.
Here are the matchups in the East:
- Penguins (5) versus Canadiens (12)
- Hurricanes (6) versus Rangers (11)
- Islanders (7) versus Panthers (10)
- Maple Leafs (8) versus Blue Jackets (9)
Here are the matchups in the West:
- Oilers (5) versus Blackhawks (12)
- Predators (6) versus Coyotes (11)
- Canucks (7) versus Wild (10)
- Flames (8) versus Jets (9)
Seven teams currently hold odds better than +1500 to win the Stanley Cup. The two favorites to win it all are the Bruins and Lightning, both of whom own odds of +600.
Boston and Tampa Bay are followed by Colorado (+750), Vegas (+850), Washington (+900), St. Louis (+1000), and Philadelphia (+1100).
A significant jump then leads to the +1500 Stars and the +2000 Penguins.