Coronavirus: NHL Stanley Cup playoff matchups set if 24-team format approved

The NHL's plan to return straight to an altered postseason with 24 teams could be locked into place this weekend.
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The NHL has been shut down since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there could be a resolution on a return straight to the Stanley Cup playoffs by the end of the weekend. The NHL Players' Association's executive board started voting Thursday on a proposed 24-team playoff format and the results could be released by Friday night. It is expected to pass. Ditto by the owners.

There would be 12 teams in the postseason from each conference, and each conference would hold its postseason in a hub city – then, the two conference winners would meet in a hub city in the Stanley Cup Finals. It's not yet clear which hub cities will be used, although the rumors have been Las Vegas (West) and Columbus (East).

Under usual circumstances, the top eight teams via points in each conference advance the playoffs. In this format, it would go by points percentage (points divided by possible points) since not all teams have played the same amount of games.

The top four teams in each conference would get a bye during the "play-in" round, but they would also play each other in a three-game series to get into game shape, etc. The other eight teams in each conference would play a best-of-5 series: 5 vs. 12, 6-11, etc.

Those winners advance, and then the format would revert to the usual best-of-7 series in a 16-team field in an NCAA Tournament-style bracket. When this begins is still TBA, but most likely by mid-July. No fans will be allowed to attend.

Below are the "play-in" matchups under this format. The big winners are the Rangers, Islanders, Panthers and Canadiens in the East; and the Canucks, Wild, Coyotes and Blackhawks in the West. Under normal circumstances, those teams would miss the playoffs.

William Hill sportsbook had the Vegas Golden Knights as moneyline betting favorites to win the West and the Boston Bruins to take the East before the pandemic.


  • 5. Pittsburgh vs. 12. Montreal (winner plays four seed)
  • 6. Carolina vs. 11. NY Rangers (winner plays three seed)
  • 7. NY Islanders vs. 10. Florida (winner plays two seed)
  • 8. Toronto vs. 9. Columbus (winner plays one seed)

Top seeds: Boston (1), Tampa Bay (2), Washington (3), Philadelphia (4)


  • 5. Edmonton vs. 12. Chicago (winner plays four seed)
  • 6. Nashville vs. 11. Arizona (winner plays three seed)
  • 7. Vancouver vs. 10. Minnesota (winner plays two seed)
  • 8. Calgary vs. 9. Winnipeg (winner plays one seed)

Top seeds: St. Louis (1), Colorado (2), Vegas (3), Dallas (4)

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SportsLine Staff
SportsLine Staff