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Commish Gary Bettman confirms 24-team NHL playoff format, draft lottery tweaks

Gary Bettman (Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen)

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially announced hockey’s return-to-play format that would conclude the 2019-20 season. 

While no concrete date for a return has been set, the NHL will jump directly into a 24-team, expanded postseason format that will see 12 teams per conference admitted into the Stanley Cup Playoffs based on their point percentage when play was halted on March 12 due to coronavirus. 

The top four seeds in each division would get a bye into the quarterfinals while seeds 5-12 will partake in a best-of-five play-in series to decide the more traditional eight-team-per-conference format.

The matchups would be as follows while the top-four seeds play a round-robin tournament to set the final rankings heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Eastern Conference

Top Seeds to receive bye

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers

Play-in Series

No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers

No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers

No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets 

Western Conference

Top Seeds to receive bye

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars

Play-in series

No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes

No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild

No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets

Two hub cities will host the playoffs, one city per conference. It is unclear which cities will be awarded those responsibilities at this time.

Bettman did reveal that 10 cities are in the mix to host hockey this summer: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vancouver.

The seven teams that did not make the playoffs and the eight teams that will be eliminated in the play-in round will be subject to a three-phased NHL Draft Lottery to decipher the top three selections.

If three non-playoff teams win top-three picks at the Phase 1 lottery on June 26, there will be no need for a Phase 2 or Phase 3 draw.

If a resuming team is included, however, a Phase 2 lottery would take place after the qualifying round. 

After initial reports suggested the NHL would have a draft in early June despite play having not returned and the selection order undecided, momentum is growing that the lottery will be held at the end of June with draft taking place after that.

At the moment, the NHL is ramping up for Phase 2 of its return, which features teams reporting to their facilities for workouts. The hope is that phase will begin in early June.

Phase 3, which is training camp, will not start until at least July which will be followed by Phase 4, the resumption of play.

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