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Bettman: 24-team playoffs if NHL able to resume

Under the expanded format, the top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the other 16 face off in a best-of-five series
Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Fans pose below the NHL league logo at a display outside Falcon Stadium before an NHL Stadium Series outdoor hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, at Air Force Academy, Colo.

NHL Commmissioner Gary Bettman has announced the league is moving ahead with a 24-team expanded playoff format if it’s able to resume play and award the Stanley Cup.

The plan was approved by the NHL’s board of governors, and comes days after the NHL Players’ Association’s executive committee gave the plan a green light.

Bettman stresses the plan’s approval doesn’t guarantee the resumption of games. The league and players must still determine safety protocols and solve other issues, including where to play.

Under the expanded format, the top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the other 16 face off in a best-of-five series. The league has been shut down since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Colorado Avalanche are among those top four teams in the Western Conference, as they finished No. 2 behind only St. Louis. Colorado will play the Blues, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars round-robin to determine seeding.

The games would be held in two hub cities, one for each the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Bettman said that 10 locations are currently under consideration for being named hub cities. They are: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.

On a zoom call shortly after Bettman's initial announcement, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted Canadian cities will be excluded from consideration if the Canadian government doesn’t relax its mandated 14-day quarantine requirement for those entering the country. 

In terms of testing, the NHL will rely on teams to conduct tests on players during Phases 2 and 3 when facilities in each individual city are opened up early next month followed by training camp.

Once the teams are in the hub cities (Phase 4), the league will handle tests. It could conduct up to 30,000 tests total by the time Stanley Cup Finals are all said and done. A player testing positive means they wouldn't be able to play for at least 14 days, but wouldn't end the entire tournament. 

“Obviously we can’t be in a situation where we have an outbreak that will affect our ability to play. But a single positive test, throughout a two-month tournament, should not necessarily mean an end for the tournament," Daly said.

In going ahead with the top 12 teams in each conference, the decision officially ends the seasons of the league’s bottom seven teams. They are Anaheim, Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Ottawa and San Jose.

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