It appears the NHL is on the verge of clearing one hurdle on its path to returning.
According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the NHLPA’s executive board is expected to approve the league’s 24-team playoff plan.
McKenzie reports that the NHLPA’s executive board call Thursday night got “a little heated at times,” but that it is expected to have at least 18 of 31 votes in support of the plan, enough for approval.
This doesn’t guarantee the NHL season will resume by any means, but it at least means the league and players are in agreement on the playoff format if they are able to return. Additional details still need to be negotiated, and no timetable for a return is expected to be announced at this time, but the crux of the plan sets up a 12-team bracket for each conference.
The top four teams in each conference by points percentage -- the Bruins, Lightning, Capitals and Flyers in the East, and the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights and Stars in the West -- would get a first-round bye, but would play each other in a round-robin tournament to determine seeding.
The remaining eight teams in each conference would play play-in series of 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9. In the East that would mean Penguins vs. Canadiens, Hurricanes vs. Rangers, Islanders vs. Panthers, and Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets. The West would be Oilers vs. Blackhawks, Predators vs. Coyotes, Canucks vs. Wild, and Flames vs. Jets.
The top seed from the top-four round-robin tournament would face the winner of the 8 vs. 9 series, second place would get the 7-10 winner, third place the 6-11 winner, and fourth place the 5-12 winner.
The league is reportedly considering several hub cities for the playoffs, although it’s not yet clear how many host cities there will be or where they’ll be. Las Vegas is believed to be one frontrunner.
There have been reports that the league may be targeting early June for players to begin returning to team facilities in small groups. That would be followed at some point by a training camp, which players have reportedly requested be three weeks long.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has acknowledged that the playoffs could run into August or September, and has said the league will be flexible in terms of potentially delaying the start of the 2020-21 season as a result.