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Report: NHL, NHLPA working to return to play with 24-team playoff format

A 24-team playoff for the Stanley Cup? It's looking more and more possible

On Wednesday, the Canadian sports outlet, Sportsnet reported that the NHL and NHL Players' Association could be close on an agreement to resume the hockey season starting with the playoffs.

Those playoffs could look quite different.

According to Sportsnet, the framework for a 24-team playoff tournament is in place, with discussions possibly happening as soon as Thursday.

So, how would it all work?

According to Sportsnet, the top four seeds in the East when play stopped (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia) and the top four seeds in the West when play stopped (St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas) would all get byes through the first play-in round of the playoffs.

However, those top seeds would participate in a three-game side tournament to help determine their seeding and get some additional on-ice action.

The rest of the playoff tournament would be bracketed, much like things are done in the NCAA basketball tournament.

In the east, the No. 5 seeded Pittsburgh would face No. 12 seeded Montreal. Number 6 seeded Carolina would face No. 11 seeded New York Rangers. The No. 7 seeded New York Islanders would face No. 10 seeded Florida. Number 8 seeded Toronto would face No. 9 seeded Columbus.

In the west, No. 5 seeded Edmonton would play No. 12 seeded Chicago. Number 6 seeded Nashville would play No. 11 seeded Arizona. Number 7 seeded Vancouver would face No. 10 seeded Minnesota. Number 8 seeded Calgary would play No. 9 seeded Winnipeg.

Here's a visual representation of what the playoffs could end up looking like:

Sportsnet reports these first series would be best-of-five, with the rest of the playoffs returning to the traditional best-of-seven.

The winner of the 8 vs. 9 match-up would advance to play the No. 1 seed, the winner of the 7 and 10 match-up would advance to play the No. 2 seed and so on.

In this scenario, the Blues, who finished the season with the most points in the western conference, would likely need to have a good showing in the first three side tournament games to hold onto that top seed.

Other determining factors such as possible hub cities and health protocols are issues the league must address as well before a deal can be reached.

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