The 24-team format has been approved, but there’s plenty left to determine

On Friday, the NHLPA Executive Board voted to move ahead with talks regarding a 24-team playoff in the NHL’s return-to-play efforts. While this vote means that the players have accepted to move forward with the proposed plan of having 24 teams returning to play, the specific format of how the playoffs will go down has not yet been set in stone.

The NHLPA issued this statement after voting in favour of the format…

“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.​”

So, ultimately, the only thing that’s been accepted here is having 24 teams returning to play. The proposed playoff format that features eight teams (the top four in each conference) getting a bye while the remaining teams undergo play-in series to continue could still feasibly be tweaked.

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A few key issues that need to be ironed out include…

  • The bracket-style format. In the format that Elliotte Friedman shared earlier in the week, the league would operate in a bracket-style, similar to that of the NCAA’s March Madness tournament. The issue here is that you could have a No. 12 seed playing a No. 4 seed in the second round while a better team seeded No. 8 or No. 9 would have to play the No. 1 seed. Simply re-seeding after each round from highest to lowest seed could solve this problem.
  • Draft positions. There had previously been talk of using points percentage at the time of the pause in order to determine the draft order. But now, teams who were playoff bound could end up missing out on the playoffs if they lose their play-in series. Would they miss the playoffs and maintain a low draft position? One idea I’ve seen is that if the lower seed upsets in the play-in series, the two teams swap draft positions. So, if the Oilers lost to Chicago, they would get the Blackhawks’ draft spot.
  • Also, could there be any way to offer an advantage to some of the higher-seeded teams during the play-in round? The Oilers were well ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings at the time of the pause, so it seems unfair that they have the same chance at moving on to the actual playoffs. Maybe the Oilers should start the series with a 1-0 lead to represent the lead they had on Chicago in the standings. It might be far-fetched, but players were reportedly aggravated by how much this format threw the regular season out the window.

Once the format is completely hammered out, the NHL and the PA have a wealth of even more complicated issues to decide upon. How will the quarantine work? How much freedom will players have? How will the league protect the players from the virus? How will testing work? Where will all of this go down? Who will the hub cities be?

Friday’s vote in favour of the 24-team format is a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work to be done.