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Coronavirus: NHL could finalize plans for 24-team return soon

The NHL is reportedly getting close to finalizing plans to resume the 2019-20 season.
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The NHL shut its season down on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and while there seemingly is daily news about what the NBA might do to resume its season, hockey news has been rather few and far between. However, various reports have emerged that Commissioner Gary Bettman is leaning toward a 24-team format resumption with two hub cities hosting 12 teams each.

It's not exactly clear how the 24-team format would work (or when it would start), and the NHL does want to play at least a handful regular season games (per team) before going to the Stanley Cup playoffs. There would be 12 Western Conference teams playing and 12 from the East, with each conference all together in one hub city. The favorites to be those cities, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston, are Las Vegas (West) and Columbus (East).

Round-robin regular season games would be held at the hub cities to help determine playoff seeding and to help players get back into game shape, etc. All decisions will be made by the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play Committee, a working group of players and executives, including Bettman and players' association head Donald Fehr. If a format is agreed upon by that committee, the 31 player reps on the NHLPA's executive board would vote to determine if it goes into effect.

If the NHL were to go simply by the Top 12 teams in points per conference, these clubs would NOT play again this season: Buffalo, New Jersey, Ottawa and Detroit from the East, and Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose (it's been a rough hockey season in California) in the West.

The NHL has one unique issue regarding a return that the NBA and Major League Baseball don't: A large number of players who are currently outside of North America. All those players (17 percent of the league according to Bettman) would be facing two weeks of isolation when they return to the USA. However, Bettman is on record saying ending the season without awarding a champion is "not something I'm even contemplating."

The Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins were the two Stanley Cup favorites on the moneyline odds at William Hill sportsbook when the league shut down.

Finally, Bettman added he's fine with not starting the 2020-21 regular season until December if that's what is necessary to help finish this one. 

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SportsLine Staff
SportsLine Staff