Though it has not been a negotiation topic, the NHL and NHLPA have each internally discussed the possibility of expanding the postseason to 20 teams, according to Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos. The league's current format includes 16 teams, eight from each conference.
The two sides are expected to meet on Wednesday -- three months and 17 days into the lockout -- in New York after the league made a counter-offer to the players' union on Tuesday night. Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday that the league has told the NHLPA that a 48-game season can begin on Jan. 19 if a deal is reached by Jan. 11.
Based on the proposed four-conference realignment, a potential expanded playoff could involve "one-game (maybe best-of-three) playoffs for the fourth- and fifth-place teams in each of the four conferences," writes ProHockeyTalk's Jason Brough:
This would have two advantages. First, the additional games would provide additional revenue. Second, more teams in the playoff race theoretically means fewer fans giving up on their teams during the regular season.
CBSSports.com's Adam Gretz outlined what the 2012 postseason would have looked like had a 20-team format been in place:
Just for some perspective: Four additional teams (two in each conference) in the current conference alignment would have resulted in the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames making the playoffs in the Western Conference last season, as well as the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference.