#NHL turning back the clock with reworked playoff format

NHL turning back the clock with reworked playoff format

June 4, 2020 | 4:43pm

We don’t know when, we don’t know where, and we still don’t know whether it will even be possible to play hockey through a pandemic, but we do know the format of the NHL’s imagined summer Stanley Cup tournament.

Following talks between the league and the NHLPA’s Return to Play Committee, it has been decided that the four rounds of the 16-team playoffs to follow the initial play-in, qualifying round will all be traditional best-of-seven’s.

In addition, teams will be reseeded after every round. That is the structure under which the Cup playoffs had been held from 1994 through 2013, before the league moved to the inequitable bracket system that created scenarios such as the 2018 Western Conference second-round matchup between Nashville and Winnipeg, the clubs with the best two records in the NHL.

The NHL had favored best-of-five series for the first two rounds of the playoffs while initially supporting the bracket format. It is believed the league supported shorter series in order to minimize the amount of time that players would be quasi-quarantined in their respective hub cities as well as to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

But the players supported maintaining the traditional of best-of-seven in large part so that the Cup champion would be required to win the same 16 playoff games that every titlist has since 1987. That was an argument on the side of credibility. The NHLPA also pushed for the reseed.

The teams that ranked fifth-through-12th by percentage in each conference will square off in a best-of-five qualifying round. At the same time, the top four teams on each side will play a round-robin to determine the order of the top four seeds. The eight winners of the qualifying round will join the eight seeded teams to form the 16-team playoff field.

The Rangers will meet Carolina, the Islanders will face Florida, Toronto will play Columbus and Pittsburgh will skate against Montreal in the Eastern qualifiers while Edmonton will play Chicago, Nashville will meet Arizona, Vancouver will face Minnesota and Calgary will take on Winnipeg in the West.

The Bruins, Lightning, Caps and Flyers will compete in the Eastern round robin while the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars will play in the West.

There is still no timetable for putting this event on the ice, but it does not appear that training camps would open until the second week of July. In that case, the qualifying round would likely begin in early August.

The league had been expected to direct teams to open their practice rinks this week for small-group Phase 2 workouts, but that obviously did not occur. Next week, perhaps, once all teams are in position comply with health and hygiene guidelines

The NHL and NHLPA are in ongoing talks about reopening protocols as well as CBA related issues, including the critical matter of escrow. The parties continue to explore the feasibility of extending the CBA that is set to expire following the 2021-22 season.


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