By Julie Glass

The National Hockey League Players’ Association executive board voted to approve a 24-team, conference-based playoff format for a potential restart of the 2019-20 NHL season this summer.

“The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play,” the union said in a statement.

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.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: Boston Bruins (1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2), Washington Capitals (3), FLYERS (4)
Play-in series: Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12), Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11), New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10), Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Top seeds: St. Louis Blues (1), Colorado Avalanche (2), Vegas Golden Knights (3), Dallas Stars (4)
Play-in series: Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12), Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11), Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10), Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)

The NHLPA board had what was described by a source as a “long, intense” conference call Thursday night to discuss the format, and a vote was conducted over the next 24 hours.

The full NHLPA board was involved in the vote — including the 24 teams that would advance to the playoffs and the seven non-playoff teams whose seasons would be over by adopting the plan. The format was created by the joint “Return To Play” committee that included NHL executives and a panel of players.

The next step is the NHL signing off on the NHLPA’s approved format. A joint announcement on the format could come in the next few days. The NHL is expected to move forward on announcing plans for the NHL draft lottery and the draft itself after this playoff format is announced. It has not been determined when and how players will be able to return to their training facilities.

Approval of the playoff format shouldn’t be confused with the players’ formal approval of the season restarting. It addresses only the structure of the postseason if teams return to the ice. There are still major issues on which the players and NHL have to find common ground, including where the games will be played and how players will be tested for COVID-19.

The players’ approved playoff plan would temporarily replace the divisional wild-card format the league has used since 2013 with two conference tournaments of 12 teams.