By Thomas Gibbons
According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic, The NHL-NHLPA Return to Play committee spoke this weekend on the topic of a 24-team format and is expected to keep discussions going over the next couple of days.
The 24-team format, which would include the Chicago Blackhawks, shows a format going straight into playoff competition rather than finishing off the regular season.
Twelve teams from each of the two conferences would gather in four hub cities, six teams per city.
Each of the four divisions would be gathered in one city with a couple of exceptions based on winning percentage at the time of the pause. A number of GMs have indicated they don’t think teams would be able to play in their own city if it was chosen. So, for instance, if Toronto was a hub city, as might be the case, the Leafs and the Atlantic Division teams would play in one of the three other cities.
The Blackhawks, currently ranked 12th in the Western Conference, would be included in the Central Division Hub.
To give all teams time to get back up to game speed, multiple sources indicated this 24-team model would begin with a round-robin style lead-in to the playoffs with each team playing the other teams in its group for five games. Given no travel and expanded rosters with the recent cancellation of the American Hockey League season, this could be accomplished in about eight or nine days.
Using points percentage from the round robin combined with the regular season points percentage, the top two teams in each divisional group would be given a bye, and the bottom four would play a best-of-three series to create the traditional 16-team playoff field with the third-place teams playing the sixth-place teams, and fourth- and fifth-place teams facing off.
In addition to this proposed format, LeBrun is also reporting that there has some pushback on having teams like the Blackhawks and Montreal Canadians in the round robin tournament knowing they were sellers at the deadline. Thus, there is a possibility the 11th and 12th place teams from each conference could be dropped. This would mean a 20 team-tournament.
More talks between the NHL-NHLPA are expected to happen this week. There is still a lot to be discussed but this promising progress given the weekends discussions on getting back on the ice.