The NHL is considering a return-to-play format that would include a 24-team playoff. It is not the only thing the NHL is considering, but given the radical nature of the idea, it’s the one getting the most publicity.
NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer chatted with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside and discussed some of what the NHL is considering as it figures out its return from the Covid-19 season suspension. He did not confirm the specifics of a 24-team playoff, but effectively confirmed some kind of extended playoff is the way a return would go.
There has been talk of cities hosting as many as a dozen teams with a single location then for the Stanley Cup Finals. If they went with a 24-team playoff, two cities hosting all 12 teams from a given conference makes sense. There is also the potential for teams to play five divisional games as a tune-up.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said eight or nine cities are in the mix to be a hub city. Mayer did not get into which cities are being considered, but did answer a question about the criteria the league would consider in deciding on hub cities.
We started the process with a few teams which for one reason or another grew to many teams, and now we’re back down to what I would consider a workable group. We’re not narrowing it down (to the final hub cities) until we have to and for so many obvious reasons. Our criteria have been fairly simple. … It will be an NHL city that will host whether we’re in two cities or in four cities. We needed also an arena that can handle four to six teams, locker-rooms, not every arena can do that. So along the way, we had to eliminate certain cities based on that. You had to look at practice facilities, at one point we were talking about eight teams, 12 teams, we’re talking potential training camps, so each of these cities has to have a respectable amount of sheets of ice that could handle a training camp or certainly a practice for a team. …. Obviously, some cities have more sheets of ice than others. The hotel requirement is super important: eight teams is different than 12 teams. If we decide to do 12 teams, that would eliminate certain cities just based on creating this hub. … And kept safe. So a hotel that could handle multiple teams or two hotels that were in a distinct area, is another obvious requirement. And then, the COVID numbers are important, testing accessibility is important, local government support is important, all those factors. … We have presented to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly a very detailed list city by city, again there are many cities that are still in the running for this.
There is plenty of speculation as to potential host cities, with Las Vegas rumored to be the site of the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals. There is a Board of Governors call this Monday, at which point we might have a better handle on the situation. The NHL owners and players are in the process of negotiating this out, and nothing can move forward until they come to an agreement.