The NHL unveiled the final details of its playoff format Thursday even as word came out that a ninth player tested positive for the coronavirus.
Every playoff series will be a best-of-seven format after the initial qualifying round and teams will be reseeded throughout if the league is able to return with its 24-team plan this summer.
The announcement came at nearly the same time the Pittsburgh Penguins revealed one of their players had tested positive. The team said the player is not in Pittsburgh, isolated after experiencing symptoms and has recovered from COVID-19.
Of the nine players who tested positive, five are from the Ottawa Senators, three from the Colorado Avalanche and one from Pittsburgh. The league is expected to test players daily if games resume.
The NHL is assessing health and safety protocols for what would be 24 teams playing in two hub cities.
“We still have a lot of things to figure out, namely the safety of the players,” Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler said this week. “We've got to make sure that our safety is at the top of that list. Because we're a few months into this pandemic, we don't know what the long term effects are going to be. A lot of questions to be answered.”
The NHL has not announced the start of voluntary workouts or a timeline for training camps and the resumption of games. But the final details of the format answered one question: Players preferred reseeding throughout a 24-team playoff as a means of fairness.
“We prefer as a general matter brackets for a whole host of reasons,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week. “We've told the players who have been debating it internally if they have a preference, we're happy to abide by it.”
The top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding.
Reseeding each round puts more value on the seeding tournaments among Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West.
The remaining 16 teams will play best-of-five series to set the final 16.
Toronto captain John Tavares, a member of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, said he preferred the traditional seven-game series once the playoffs are down to the more traditional 16 teams. A majority of players agreed.