A plan is in place.
The NHL, which halted play back on March 12th, has made significant progress in figuring out how to handle the playoffs if/when it is deemed that a return is possible. The most notable change in the format is the addition of eight more teams than usual having a chance to lift the Cup.
The NHLPA’s official statement is as follows:
The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup.
Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play. (x)
The top four teams in each conference (based on points percentage) would receive a bye from competing in the play-in round, while the remaining 16 teams would battle in eight best-of-five series to determine which teams will then participate in the traditional playoff format. Philadelphia, with the fourth-best points percentage in the East, would not be participating in the play-in round.
The Flyers would not be idle however, as they, along with Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington, would battle it out for the top seed in the East — probably. There’s a chance that the games would only serve as tune-ups and not actually have an affect on the seeding, but that’s to be determined.
The Flyers and Stars are in pretty good spots here as the current four-seeds. Their positions can only improve or stay the same. Really, this format is kinder to only the teams that would’ve surely missed out on the post-season entirely under regular circumstances.
It should also be noted that the above format is the initial proposal. The details are still up for negotiation and it is in no way finalized.
Even with this affirmative vote, there are still some details with the 24-team playoff format still to be worked out between the NHL and NHLPA. One of them is whether they'll go ahead with a playoff bracket or use reseeding.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 23, 2020
The question of reseeding is an interesting one, given that under a set bracket, the first round of the playoffs could see the one seed face the eight seed, while the four seed would draw the twelve seed, should an upset occur. They may ultimately decide to have the one seed play the twelve under that scenario.
Beyond the logistics of potential matchups, the NHL will still have to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Questions remain, like whether the league will use a hub city (or multiple hub cities) to host the playoffs, how they will handle testing, and what happens if a player or multiple players test positive in the middle of the tournament.
While a step forward, this doesn’t mean that the 2020 playoffs are for sure happening — though it feels more likely by the day. What we are getting to see is what a return to play would like look once they’re given the green light. Exactly when that could take place is still unknown.