The NHL on Friday took its biggest step yet toward returning to play when the NHL Players' Association signed off on a plan for a 24-team playoff format.
The NHLPA did not provide a breakdown of the vote of its 31 player representatives in making the announcement Friday night, a day after the proposal was presented to the union's executive board. The top four seeds from each conference will avoid a play-in round while the remaining eight teams will engage in best-of-five series that will blur the division lines in order to complete the customary 16-team bracket for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team clinched the first seed in the playoffs with nearly a month left in the regular season and then was upended by the hardened Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.
And as their statement noted, additional details and key elements will need to be hammered out before the league drops the puck. The league has not yet determined those sites, though Edmonton, Alberta, Columbus, Ohio, Toronto and Las Vegas were believed to be among the possibilities. Under the return to play plan, because the 24 won't all have played the same number of total games, the percentage of available points earned would determine entry and seeding.
"I don't think there's going to be a ideal scenario where everyone's super excited about", Nashville's Ryan Johansen said earlier Thursday.
The format would exclude the bottom seven teams in the overall league standings from the playoffs. "I think we all have to adapt and be willing to adapt and kind of realize that it's not going to be this ideal, classic National Hockey League playoffs".
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"It will certainly be weird without fans or whatever the scenario unfolds to be, but I think we all have to adapt".
Tampa Bay hasn't been the only top team to coast to the playoffs only to get upended by the eighth seed.
A person with what would be one of the seven non-playoff teams told The AP the performance staff is already preparing workout programs for players during what will be a long layoff.
The 24-team playoff format would see 12 clubs from both the Eastern and Western Conference battle for the Cup in a tournament that could stretch deep into the fall or early winter. "It's still hockey, but I don't mind the format".