The NHLPA Executive Board had a call on Thursday to discuss the proposed 24-team playoff structure for the NHL’s return to play. On Friday, the NHLPA officially announced approval of the 24-team structure and authorized further negotiations with the NHL in pursuing the return to play.
"The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play," the NHLPA said in a statement released on Friday night.
There were a number of issues presented during what was described as “spirited if not raucous” by TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Among the issues that brought about such great emotion were testing, player safety, players leaving their families, pay and the belief that this issue should be a full-player vote and not just the Executive Board, where each team has one representative. Despite the passion, which made the call heated at times according to McKenzie, the vote was nearly unanimous to move ahead with the format, resulting in a 29-2 vote.
This approval now allows for additional steps to be taken in rolling out a formal plan to return to play. The NHL and NHLPA hopes to be able to announce this plan in the coming days, but any announcement will come without a firm return date.
There was a report that indicated that the league’s training camps may not start until July. Camps would last three weeks before games began.
In the proposed 24-team format, the Top 4 teams in each conference would have a bye from the opening round of the playoffs and play each other in a three-game series. The results of those three games would have the potential to rearrange seeding, in the instance that a four-seed swept the three games against the Top 3 in the conference for example.
While the Top 4 compete against each other, the other 16 teams will play in a best-of-five opening round series where the 5-seed would play the 12-seed, the 6-seed would play the 11-seed, the 7-seed would play the 10-seed and the 8-seed would play the 9-seed. Even with the approval of the format, there are some details that could still be negotiated, such as moving forward with a playoff bracket or reseeding.
As for the other issues, these are things that the two sides will continue to discuss as they have already for the past few weeks. The issue on players leaving their families should be resolved fairly easily, as there were reports that the NHL was willing to make accommodations on that request to have their families accompany them. Throughout the process of creating a plan to return to play, the amount of testing available and safety of the players and their families is the top priority and this plan will only come to fruition if it is safe to return.
Still, this is an important first step to be taken. The NHL will now go through a process of its own to negotiate and finalize certain elements of the return to play format, but an announcement should be coming soon that provides firm details of a plan.