The NHL took its first step toward returning.
A 24-team return-to-play format was approved Friday following a vote by the NHL Players’ Association executive committee.
“The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup,” the NHLPA said in a statement. “Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”
The NHLPA 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 2019-20 season: https://t.co/SIzQYyooEE pic.twitter.com/9TftmApiGJ
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) May 23, 2020
Settling on a format was an important first step for the NHL’s return, but the league still must decide when and where play will resume and also what testing procedures and health protocols will be in place. An announcement from the league is expected next week.
The NHL season was paused March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday the league was looking at eight or nine locations to serve as hub cities for “a dozen or so teams” if the season resumes. The games are expected to take place without fans in attendance.
Las Vegas remains one of the frontrunners or potentially could host the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, according to a report by Le Journal de Montreal.
Fletch Brunelle, the vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said proximity to ice is one of the factors being considered by the NHL for Las Vegas’ bid.
The Las Vegas Valley has ice sheets at City National Arena (two), Las Vegas Ice Center (two) and Pepsi Ice Arena at Fiesta Rancho, which remains closed. Orleans Arena also has ice-making capabilities.
In addition to T-Mobile Arena, made-for-TV rinks can potentially be installed at Mandalay Bay Events Center and MGM Grand Garden.
“I think (the NHL) would want the competition ice to be the exact same location most likely, but within one mile you could potentially have three sheets of ice and television broadcasts going from one to the other,” said Daren Libonati, former director of the Thomas & Mack Center. “You could have Mandalay Bay as a television program, you could have T-Mobile as a program and MGM has a program. Just as one program is finishing another goes live at another venue and you never miss a step.”
The 24-team tournament bracket to award the Stanley Cup will feature the top 12 teams from each conference based on points percentage.
Under the plan, the Golden Knights will receive a bye in the opening round as one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference.
The Knights will join St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas in a round-robin to determine the top four seeds while the remaining eight teams meet in a best-of-five, play-in round.
Should the Knights not improve on their standing as the No. 3 seed during round-robin play, they would face the winner of the Arizona-Nashville series in a best-of-seven conference quarterfinal.
In the Eastern Conference, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia received a bye and also will play a round-robin to settle seeding.
The proposal needed 18 of the 31 NHLPA executive committee votes to pass and TVA Sports reported the final tally was 29-2 in favor.
Vast majority of the NHLPA executive board members (29-2) agreed on the return to play format. Now you have to expect the league will make an announcement on the format sometime next week.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) May 23, 2020
The NHL remains in Phase One of its return with players and staff in self-isolation and has not announced when team facilities will open for small, group skates and voluntary workouts.
That issue was further complicated this week when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the border between the U.S. and Canada will remain closed to nonessential travel through June 21.
Bettman indicated during his virtual chat Monday with Leaders Week sports conference that nearly 20 percent of players are currently outside North America.