NHL eyes 24-team playoffs in hubs for return: reports

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The National Hockey League said Monday that nine new players have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, bringing the total since June 8 to 35 from among 396 players tested (AFP Photo/Scott Taetsch) (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File)

New York (AFP) - The National Hockey League and its players union are discussing plans for an expanded 24-team playoffs to return from its coronavirus shutdown, according to multiple reports Thursday.

The league, which shut down its 2019-20 campaign March 12 with just over three weeks of the regular season remaining, will talk Thursday or Friday with the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) about the idea, according to ESPN and Canada's Sportsnet, citing unnamed sources.

The top four teams in the Eastern and Western conference standings -- as determined by points percentage because teams have played different numbers of games -- would receive a first-round bye while clubs ranked five through 12 have a best-of-five play-in series.

That would leave 16 teams to compete in a regular NHL best-of-seven playoff format to determine conference winners and a Stanley Cup champion.

No spectators would be permitted at any contests, which would include a three-game mini-tournament among the top-seeded clubs so there would be no concern about a longer layoff than lower-seeded rivals in the last 16.

The tournament could impact playoff seedings among the top four, allowing for possible changes that could have come over the final weeks of the regular season, the same rationale for having an expanded playoff format.

The plan covers a resumption format but not such details as hub cities, virus testing for players and officials and travel issues for talent across national borders.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that the league is considering eight or nine cities for possible hubs where multiple teams would play.

Only two hubs likely would be used if the NHL and NHLPA approve the plan, one for the East teams and the other for the West clubs, the reports said.

Under the proposed format, the East top seeds would be Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia and the West top seeds would be defending champion St. Louis, Colorado, Las Vegas and Dallas.