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NHL, players association reach agreement on playoff format

NHL, players association reach agreement on playoff format
Capital One Arena, home to the NBA's Washington Wizards and the NHL's Washington Capitals, is quiet after the NHL announced March 12 that it will suspend the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NHL announced its return-to-play plan May 26. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

June 4 (UPI) -- The NHL and the NHL Players Association agreed to a postseason format for the league's 24-team return-to-play plan, the NHL announced Thursday.

Under the format, the qualifying round of the 24-team tournament will be best-of-five series and all four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven series. The league and the players' union also determined the tournament won't be bracketed but will be reseeded after each round.

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The NHL and the NHLPA now must agree on health and safety protocols for games, and decide whether family members will be permitted to travel with players. The league and the union also must reach an overall agreement on resuming play.

The NHL announced its return-to-play plan May 26, which will involve 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup instead of the typical 16 clubs. The league previously said the length of the first- and second-round series would be determined at a later date.

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Under the plan, the top four seeds in each conference -- determined by the league standings when the regular season was halted in mid-March -- would earn byes through a qualifying round of best-of-five play-in series featuring teams seeded five through 12. The games will be played with playoff overtime rules.

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Those play-in series would determine which teams advance to the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup tournament, which will now include seven-game series in every round.

The games would be held inside empty arenas at two undecided hub cities, where players, coaches and other staff will be housed during the restart. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman previously said Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver are in consideration as hub cities.

Bettman noted that the decision on the hub cities and when the Stanley Cup playoffs will begin depends on COVID-19 conditions, government regulations and testing capabilities.

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Meanwhile, the NHL on Thursday began transitioning to Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan, as teams will be allowed to reopen their training facilities in their respective cities Monday if local regulations allow it.

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Phase 3 of the league's plan is the reopening of training camps no later than July 1. Phase 4 is the return of competition in the two hub cities.

The NHL paused its regular season in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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