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NHL unveils format for Stanley Cup playoffs as return-to-play plans continue

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The National Hockey League has announced further details of its proposed 24-team tournament this summer, with the qualifying round being a best-of-five series while all four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven.

Furthermore, teams will be re-seeded after each round and not bracketed. It means in each succeeding round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the highest remaining seed in each conference will face the lowest remaining seed, and so on.

The announcement follows an agreement between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. Further details of the return-to-play plan still need to be hashed out, namely health and safety protocols for games, and whether family members will be allowed to travel with players.

Last month, the NHL announced it had canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 regular season and will go straight into an expanded 24-team playoff format if it is able to resume play amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The NHL’s return-to-play plans are scheduled to feature the top 12 teams in each conference playing in a newly structured tournament, with qualifying participants determined based on every team’s points percentage at the time the season was postponed in mid-March.

Traditionally, 16 teams make the postseason. In each 12-team conference in the new format for this year, the top four teams will receive byes to the first round of the playoffs and play each other for seeding in a mini round-robin format. The remaining eight teams will play in a best-of-five “play-in” series to advance to the first round.

In the Eastern Conference, the top four teams are the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. The top four in the Western Conference are St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars. The re-seeding throughout the playoffs will put more value on these teams’ round-robin games.

The planned postseason tournament will be played in two yet-to-be-announced “hub cities,” one for each conference. Ten cities, all existing league markets, are in the running for playoff games without spectators: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.

The NHL, meanwhile, has also cleared the way for players to return to practice rinks next week and take part in limited, voluntary workouts. Players will be allowed to skate in groups of up to six at a time from June 8 as the league moves to the second phase of its plan for resuming play.