Should the NHL’s proposed 24-team, conference-based playoff format come to fruition, the New York Rangers would face the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-five play-in series to restart the 2019-20 season.
The rearranged playoffs would be conference-based and remain bracketed, replacing the wild-card format the league has followed since 2013. The top four seeds in each conference – which would be determined by their standings points percentage when the season was paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic – would receive byes through the first round.
The Post’s Larry Brooks was the first to report on the likelihood of the 24-team format.
The play-in series would feature seeds 5 through 12 and would determine the teams that advance to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket that would feature the usual seven-game series.
To avoid prolonged rustiness from already being off the ice for months, the proposed format would have the top four seeds participate in a three-game tournament while the play-in round was going on. It is yet to be determined if the mini-tournament would have an impact on seeding.
“I’m not aware of any agreement yet,” deputy commissioner Billy Daly told ESPN. “Don’t want to jump the gun on anything.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman has said a priority is to have at least a two-week training camp period to ensure players can get back into game shape and avoid injury.
ESPN reported the league will likely prioritize two “hub” cities for a restart if the proposed plan is approved by the league and the NHL Players Association. On Monday, Bettman said there were eight or nine locations under consideration.
In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers would all have byes. Based on where they stood in the standings prior to the stop in play, the Rangers would be the 11th seed, while the Islanders would face the Florida Panthers as the seventh seed.
The Penguins fall to fifth seed, just missing the bye group, and would face Carey Price and the Canadiens — which has apparently caused a stir, per The Post.
The St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars would all receive byes in the Western Conference.
The NHLPA executive committee is expected to meet Thursday to discuss the format and other return-to-play issues.
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