As the sports world enters Month 3 without any games, there seems to be progress being made on many fronts to get the major sports leagues back up and running sometime soon. The NHL was reportedly making some major progress in this area when a huge hurdle was thrown in the way.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the US-Canada border would remain closed for the next month to non-essential travel. This meant that a number of Canadian star players -- including names like Claude Giroux and Carter Hart for the Flyers -- would have to remain in Canada and continue training there unless an exception was granted.
While there is no update on that front, there is some hope that the NHL could have an outline for what the structure would look like when play is allowed to resume.
It has been widely reported that the league would potentially do away with the rest of the regular season and instead open up the playoffs to 24 teams, allowing for more games to be played and allowing any team that was within relative striking distance of the playoffs at the time of the pause a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
On Wednesday night, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the NHL and NHLPA is working toward a 24-team playoff setup that would be conference-based and it certainly has an interesting structure.
According to Friedman, the top four seeds in each conference -- Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West -- would all receive byes during a play-in opening round, but would participate in a three-game tournament, presumably against each other, to get some games in.
For the remaining 16 teams, the playoffs would be “bracketed.” In each conference, the 5th seed would play the 12th seed, the 6th seed would play the 11th seed, the 7th seed would play the 10th seed, and the 8th seed would play the 9th seed. The winner of the 5 vs. 12 matchup would face the 4th seed, 6 vs. 11 would face the 3rd seed, 7 vs. 10 would face the 2nd seed, and 8 vs. 9 would face the 1st seed. In this structure in the Eastern Conference, that would mean Pittsburgh would face Montreal, Carolina would face the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders would face Florida and Toronto would face Columbus.
The play-in opening round would be a best-of-five series between the two teams. Once both conferences are down to eight teams each following the opening round, the playoffs will return to the traditional best-of-seven series.
Two things are important to note here. First, this does not provide any details on any other aspects of a return to play that have been previously discussed, including testing protocols, hub cities and visas for players to return. Secondly, none of this is set in stone just yet. This format would need to be approved by teams and players. According to Friedman, that could happen as soon as Thursday. The NHLPA’s executive board has a call scheduled for Thursday where return-to-play topics, including the format, will be discussed.