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Report: NHL, NHLPA discussing 24-team, conference-based 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: NHLPA Executive Board voting on 24-team Stanley Cup playoff format Friday]

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association continue working toward a plan to restart the 2019-20 season. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the latest idea revolves around a 24-team, conference-based format.

There remains plenty for the two sides to figure out, but the framework of a format will be discussed when the NHLPA executive committee meets on Thursday.

How will it work?

First, the top four seeds in each conference will be based on 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.

As the play-in games are going on, the top four seeds in each conference will participate in a three-game tournament, according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. It’s yet to be determined if those guys will have any impact on seeding, but it would act as a way to get into game shape.

The playoff picture

Here’s what the format, which will need to be approved by the teams and players, would look like:

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)

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.

The games would be played in two hub cities with no fans in attendance. While there’s lot to work out logistically to pull off, sliding a playoff format would be a good first step in potentially restarting the season.

“There’s a bunch of different formats being talked about. It’s hard to really say what the leader is just because things can change,” said Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, a member of the Return to Play Committee. “Nothing’s really certain until it’s certain. Things can change so quickly and they have on different things, things that were looked at early on, without getting into too much detail, are beyond feasible now. There’s different things that can change, so it’s hard to say that there’s a real leader.

“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. 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.”

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