GLENDALE, Ariz. — The NHL announced Tuesday it will abandon the rest of the regular season and go straight into the playoffs with 24 teams instead of 16 if it is able to resume play, putting the Arizona Coyotes in the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said the decision is not a guarantee that games are coming back. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association must still figure out health and safety protocols and solve other issues, including where to play.
Instead of limiting Stanley Cup Playoffs to the usual 16 teams that qualify, the league and players agreed to expand the field to 24 of its 31 teams because of the unusual circumstances, taking the top 12 from each conference.
The top four teams in each conference ranked by points percentage — Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West — will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding.
The remaining 16 teams will be seeded by conference, setting up best-of-five series in the East of No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Montreal, No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida and No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus.
In the West, it would be No. 5 Edmonton vs. No. 12 Chicago, No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona, No. 7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota and No. 8 Calgary vs. No. 9 Winnipeg.
The league hasn’t played a game since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When the league suspended play in March, the Coyotes were fifth in the Western Conference wild card standings and four points out of second in the wild card standings. Under the normal format, the Coyotes would have had to finish in the top three in the Pacific Division or top two in the Western Conference wild card standings to make the postseason.
Each conference will play games in one designated "hub" city. Glendale is not being considered as one of the hub cities at this time, Bettman said.