Those in the room call it a big step.
Of course, the list of issues that remain to be defined is much more important than the framework for which the NHLPA Executive Council voted favorably on Friday evening. But it’s a step in the right direction. The first tangible progress towards the end of the 2019-2020 NHL season after more than 10 weeks of uncertainty caused by the new coronavirus.
Here’s what player representatives for 31 teams have agreed to: A 24-team return-to-play format that will see the first four seeded players from each conference “byes” directly to the playoffs while the other 16 enter the best of the five play-in rounds to determine their opponents.
At this point, that’s all.
Some of the other details that Elliotte Friedman and I have been reporting on in recent days are still open to debate – whether a parenthesis playoff format will be used, as is the preference of the NHL, or whether seeding could apply instead.
This will help determine what the first round robin games mean between the top four seeders. It was thought that they would be used to allow some jockeying between positions, but the precise mechanisms behind this have yet to be worked out.
And if a seeding system is used, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the Boston Bruins ending up with first place in the Eastern Conference since they had an eight lead points on Tampa when the season was interrupted.
Put this under a question for another day.
It was a journey for the players to accept a 24-team cadre and included a call Thursday evening with the executive board where emotions were high. Not everyone was in favor of Montreal and Chicago being included – two teams that had infinitely small chances of reaching the traditional playoffs.
Now they each have a chance to participate by taking three out of five games from an opponent who had a much better regular season. The Habs were 15 points behind Pittsburgh while the Blackhawks were 11 behind Edmonton, and they are all essentially tied.
Yet the Penguins voted in favor of this framework because they supported the common good. And they weren’t the only ones.
“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” said Kris Letang, NHLPA representative for Pittsburgh, in a Friday night conversation with Friedman. “But we all want the best for hockey and keep growing the game.”
The vote essentially closes the book this season on the last seven teams: Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit.
Everyone still has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Much remains to be done if the NHLPA approves a return to play format
May 22, 2020
But despite all the hope that accompanies crippling play-in games, there is still a long way to go before this concept becomes reality. Issues like securing sufficient testing capacity and accepting security protocols. Respond to players’ concerns about family separation for a long time and determine which two cities will be used as return centers. Go somewhere in the 100 players district back from Europe and see if each team may organize a training camp in his own city.
And, as discussions continue on all of these elements, the NHL is still looking to get the wheels rolling in the next phase of its comeback plan by opening the team facilities for small workouts groups.
The biggest question of all remains unanswered: when could it all start?
There are those who believe – or hope – that we could be watching NHL games by the end of July, but it’s not something the league or anyone else can say for sure right now. .
You probably feel a trend here.
Perhaps this is why the vote on Friday evening was hailed by some as an important step: when juxtaposed with this mountainous list of tasks, it should lead to the striking out of a big deal.
We also have a clearer idea of what it might all look like if it is safe enough or doable enough to resume the pursuit of the Stanley Cup.