NHL Season to Resume in 24-Team Playoff Format at Undetermined Date, Per Commissioner Gary Bettman

By Chris Pennington on May 26, 2020 at 4:17 pm
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference before game one of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It's been two months without hockey - we can go a few more, right?

On Tuesday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made an announcement about the league's return-to-play plan in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bettman stated that the league will resume in 24-team playoff format at an undetermined date and that the 2019-2020 season is officially concluded. The league will be following national health guidelines and experts of when would exactly be best to begin this new format.

Regarding the Columbus Blue Jackets - they are set to face-off with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a play-in series in a qualifying round to earn a spot in the conference-based playoffs where 16-team will remain. Should they win, they would take on the Boston Bruins in a rematch of last postseason's second round, in the first round of those conference-based playoffs.


The 24 teams in this new playoff format will consist of the 12 teams in each conference with the highest points percentages (as of March 11), when the season was suspended originally. The top four teams in each conference (by points percentage, again) will play in a round-robin style series against one another in their respective conference to earn a 1-4 seeding that will be good for the conference-based playoffs, while the 16 other teams will compete in a five-game play-in series in a qualifying round to move onto the conference-based playoffs.

The winners of each qualifying round would then face the top four seeds from each conference in either a best-of-five or best-of-seven series.

NHL Plan

Once down to eight teams total, the format essentially goes back to normal in regards to seven-game series', but you know, without the fans:

Playoff Fornat

This bracket is a mock look at what the Eastern Conference rounds would look like, but this is also assuming the 1-4 seeds would stay the same out of the Round Robin tournament (which they likely won't).

In regards to where all of this will be happening, Columbus is still in the running to be one of the two hub cities to host these return games, according to Bettman. The other cities under consideration are Chicago, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver. It's not been confirmed yet whether or not these hub cities will be used for the whole playoffs or just the qualifying round and round-robin games.

As for the seven teams who don't make the cut for this 24-team format, they will be placed in the draft lottery pool, taking place on June 26, with no further games to be played for their seasons. Unfortunately for them, the eight teams eliminated in the play-in round will also join them as lottery teams, first reported by Shayna Goldman of The Athletic NYC and Blueshirt Banter.

Now, 15 teams being in the lottery is not a different number of teams than in prior years, but you have to think that the bottom-seven teams will be fuming that eight other teams, who are barely better than them, get to play in the "postseason" and be a lottery team.

However, reported by Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the play-in series will not be counted as the official postseason in regards to record-keeping. Meaning, should the Blue Jackets lose to the Maple Leafs in this qualifying round, history won't mark them as making the playoffs and losing in the first round. Their matchup with the Bruins would be the "first round". 

But, it's the principle that would likely make those seven lottery teams upset. 


In further news regarding the draft, NHL GMs were told that the draft itself will take place after the season and playoffs are complete, first reported again by per Pierre LeBrun.

So, here we are. The banged-up Columbus Blue Jackets, who sit fourth in the Metropolitan Division with a 33-22-15 (81 points) record, are one of those 24 teams and will have a shot at winning it all. Columbus will be coming into these playoffs with a healthy roster to boot - can the boys and blue make some noise this summer?

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