Slowly, but surely, the sports world is returning to normalcy — or at least something close it. The NHL’s rumored 24-team playoff format was confirmed by commissioner Gary Bettman during a televised address on Tuesday.

“We believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that as a practical matter might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused,” Bettman said on NBC Sports Network after revealing the nuances and details of the NHL’s plan. “And this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”

The exact format will include four byes (with round-robin play to determine seeding) for the top four teams in each conference. The other eight teams in each conference will play a best-of-five play-in series.

 

NHL Playoffs Hub Cities

There are still details that must be ironed out before the league returns to play. For one, the league must decide on what “hub” cities to place teams. To start the playoffs, teams will be located in two centralized locations. Those cities have not been chosen yet, but there is a list of 10 cities under consideration:

  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Edmonton, AB
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Toronto, ON
  • Vancouver, BC

Moreover, instituting health and safety protocols is going to be an important step in making sure the 2019-20 season finishes without another shutdown — or cancelation entirely. Bettman stressed the importance of making sure the 2021 season is not adversely affected by crowning a champion this season.

“Let me reiterate, while it is hopeful — our goal — that we will be able to resume play and award the Stanley Cup, we intend to do so in a timeframe that will enable us to get back to our full calendar for the 2021 season,” Bettman explained. “At the same time, we remain focused on the safety of our players, coaches, support staff, and arena personnel.”

 

No Fans, Home-Ice or Playoff Beards?

Assuming the league can hurdle the obvious health and safety barriers, the 24-team bracket will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. This new format brings new possibilities for bettors. Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and with so many variables in play during this bizarre season, it’s certainly possible for an underdog to make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Think about it. There won’t be any fans in the stands, thus eliminating any potential home-ice advantage. In addition to the fan-less games, NHL players are not used to playing games during the summer months and that will take some adjusting. Not to mention, the thick beards that have become synonymous with playoff hockey will be much more of a nuisance for guys in July and August rather than April and May!

Although the league is leaving dates and sites “to be determined” for the time being, this is a massive step in the right direction for sports fans. As the world continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus, the absence of live sports is leaving a gaping hole. Even for casual fans who don’t live and die with their favorite hockey team, this 24-team playoff will be a welcome diversion.

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