The 24-team model to complete the 2019-20 NHL regular season that was suspended on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic is inching closer to becoming a reality, but that doesn't necessarily mean fans will see live hockey anytime soon.
On Friday evening, NHL insider David Pagnotta tweeted that the NHL Players' Association is on board with the 24-team proposal, but added that games might not begin until late July:
Hearing the 24-team return-to-play format will be approved by NHLPA, but there's A LOT more work to be done. To put in perspective, if the rest of planning goes well, I'm told camps won't start until early-July & could run 3 weeks, which would lead to starting play at end of July— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) May 22, 2020
This could push the 2020 Stanley Cup Final to the end of September and result in the subsequent season beginning as late as January 2021:
Further to last tweet, if play begins at the end of July, the Stanley Cup might not be awarded until the end of Sept, though a schedule isn't finalized. Depending on when fans can re-enter arenas, start of the 2020-21 NHL season could begin anywhere from late Nov-Jan (big gap rn)— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) May 22, 2020
Much remains unknown about a schedule that must be agreed upon by owners and the players. Rumors continue to circulate that a round-robin format could precede a postseason tournament.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and Larry Brooks of the New York Post have reported players are not keen on participating in any three-and-done series during the playoffs.
During an appearance on "Hockey Central" earlier this week, Nashville Predators center Matt Duchene slammed the idea of a "COVID Cup":
"I just think you gotta keep as much integrity as possible. You don’t want to have a COVID Cup, and I’m worried that if we force this thing and try and it’s a little gimmicky and it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is gonna have people try to take it away from them for their whole lives and guys don’t deserve that."
Update: On Friday evening, the NHLPA Executive Board announced that it has approved "further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return-to-play format":
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
ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski broke down the plan:
"Under the plan, the top four seeds in each conference, as determined by their standings points percentage when the regular season was paused on March 12, would receive byes through a round of best-of-five play-in series featuring seeds 5 through 12. Those play-in series would determine which teams advance to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket, which would have seven-game series."
There are still many details to iron out, such as when and where the remainder of the season would occur, but it's an important step in returning to play.