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If the NHL goes to a 24-team Stanley Cup Playoff round, which is looking likely at the moment, the top two teams in each division would likely get a bye in the play-in round. But would those teams, currently the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Edmonton Oilers, have a disadvantage after not seeing any action since the second week of March?
Players and coaches from those teams have argued that it is not fair for them to rest while other teams get their feet wet into playing again. That is a legitimate concern as players have not even touched the ice since the NHL paused the 2019-20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Capitals defenseman Brenden Dillon told NBC Sports that this is the longest many players have been off the ice since they were five or six years old.
Some have suggested that the two teams from each division who receive a bye could play back-to-back games against each other to work their skating and timing down, but those games would likely be more like exhibition games with teams also focused on avoiding injuries.
Under one format being considered, six teams would play in a city, according to The Athletic. The Bruins, Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens would play the Atlantic Division hub; the Capitals, Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and Columbus Blue Jackets would play in the Metropolitan one; the Blues, Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and Chicago Blackhawks would play in the Central one; and the Golden Knights, Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, and Arizona Coyotes would play in the Pacific one.
Multiple sources told The Athletic that the tournament would begin with a round-robin style “lead-in” to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with each team playing other teams in its hub five times. It could be done in eight to nine days since there is no traveling for any team and the teams have their AHL players available with the league canceling the remainder of its season.
Other sources indicate that the League is also considering having two central locations, one for each conference, with 12 teams playing in each city.
The matchups in the best-of-three play-in round would include Maple Leafs-Canadiens, Rangers-Panthers, Penguins-Blue Jackets, Hurricanes-Islanders, Stars-Blackhawks, Predators-Jets, Flames-Coyotes, and Canucks-Wild. Four rounds of best-of-seven would follow.
The NHL’s list of centralized locations to resume the season has reportedly been narrowed down to Vancouver, Edmonton, Vegas, Dallas, St. Paul, and Toronto.
By Harrison Brown