Report: NHL ‘making progress’ on 24-team playoff format upon return

Stanley Cup ice
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

If the NHL returns to finish its 2019-20 season, extended invites to the playoffs look set to be mailed out. 

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Sunday morning that the league’s Return To Play committee held talks throughout the weekend with the NHL and NHL Player’s Association (NHLPA) “making progress on a 24-team format.”

“Sources also stressing there’s still work to be done, but clearly the weekend has produced some traction,” LeBrun added. “More talks expected over next day or two.”

In a normal season, eight teams per conference make the playoffs for a grand total of 16 clubs. 

Those circumstances have obviously changed with play postponed on March 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak. In total, there were 189 regular-season games remaining before the playoffs. 

While a concrete plan or date for a return has not been officially put forth by the league, playing out the remainder of the regular season and a normal postseason would see the NHL season end in August. That would leave the players and the league with a two-month offseason to properly ramp up for a 2020-21 campaign that would start in October. 

A 24-team playoff system —12 teams in each conference — would allow the league to immediately jump into the postseason fairly without omitting teams because they played fewer games or had more points than others, but a lesser point percentage. 

Every team with a .500 record or better would make the postseason unless the league opts to go with the less likely scenario of taking the top six teams in each of the four divisions. Then the Buffalo Sabres would replace the New York Rangers in the East while the Anaheim Ducks are swapped in for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The format of a 24-team postseason remains to be seen as of now. To ensure the Stanley Cup is awarded in a timely manner, shortened series could kick off the playoffs before settling into a traditional format at the conference quarterfinal or semifinal stages.