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NHLPA Executive Board voting on 24-team Stanley Cup playoff format

The Our Line Starts crew discuss what a 24-team playoff format may look like, who would be among the top competitors and whether or not it would be fair and good for the league.

[UPDATE: The NHLPA Executive Board has “authorized further negotiations with the NHL” on the 24-team format.]

Progress is being made towards the NHL returning to play.

According to multiple reports, the NHL Players’ Association executive board is voting on the 24-team, conference-based playoff format. We could know what the players think as early as Friday evening.

The vote features a representative from all 31 NHL teams.

The format

The format would see the top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences determined by points percentage as of the March 12 NHL pause. That means Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia in the East, and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas in the West. Those eight teams would get a bye through the first round of playoffs, which would be a best-of-five series featuring seeds 5 through 12. From there, the winners of those eight series would move into the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket featuring best-of-seven series.

1. Bruins
2. Lightning
3. Capitals
4. Flyers

Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)

1. Blues
2. Avalanche
3. Golden Knights
4. Stars

Oilers (5) vs. (Blackhawks (12)
Predators (6) vs. Coyotes (11)
Canucks (7) vs. Wild (10)
Flames (8) vs. Jets (9)

To stay sharp as the play-in games are going on, the top four teams would participate in a mini tournament for seeding in the next round.

Following that first round, the top seed in each conference would play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series and the No. 2 seed would face the victor of the No. 7 vs. No. 10 series. The third seed would meet the No. 6 vs. No. 11 winner and the fourth seed would await either the No. 5 or No. 12 seed.

Player reaction

“We’re trying to keep as many options open and navigate through different things and hopefully come up with a vision that obviously first and foremost ensures the health and safety of everyone,” said Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, a member of the NHL-NHLPA Return to Play Committee. “Then from there, it’s trying to find one that keeps the integrity and competitiveness that’s so great about our game and so great about the Stanley Cup.”

If the format passes, it’s only the first step in the return to play process. The players and the league would still need to work on other logistics such as hub sites and health and safety protocols for all involved.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a perfect scenario where everyone’s super excited about,” said Predators forward Ryan Johansen. “As long as everybody can agree and be happy with the decision that will be made, that’s really all that matters.”

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Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.