The NHL Players Association voted to approve the league's proposal of a 24-team, conference-based playoff format as a restart to the 2019–2020 season.
The agreement does not involve a timetable for when hockey will return to play, but rather the format the league will adopt once that time comes. The decision doesn't guarantee that hockey will return, as the league and players union still need to negotiate other details, including health and safety protocols.
The NHLPA later announced that its executive board has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format, subject to reaching an overall agreement with the league on resuming the season.
TSN's Bob McKenzie describes the discussions as getting "heated" at times, with individual players having varying opinions on the proposed structure. Under this plan, the top four seeds in each conference will receive byes into the second round, based on where things stood when the NHL suspended its season on March 12.
Under that framework, the top four Eastern Conference teams would be the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. In the West, the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars would grab the top four spots.
"I feel like if you're doing the 24-team thing, it basically gives a team a chance that had no chance of making it, which if you play 82 there's maybe 6, 8% chance that the team in 12th place (in the conference) makes it," Carolina player representative Jordan Martinook said Wednesday. "Nobody's ever seen this before, but at the end of the day, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are 16 teams, seven games a series."
The remaining 16 playoff teams would face off in five-game series for the first round. All remaining series would be best-of-seven games.
According to Reuters, the league plans on using hub cities, rather than teams' home sites, once the plan receives approval. Games would be played with no fans in attendance.