The NHL was forced to pause its season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union's executive board - made up of a player representative from each team - approved the 24-club format mapped out by the NHL/NHLPA's Return To Play Committee in a vote Friday.
"The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players' Association has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the victor of the 2020 Stanley Cup", the NHLPA said in a statement released Friday night.
However, the union said via a statement that several details still need to be ironed out before an official agreement can be reached.
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The NHLPA held a conference call Thursday night ahead of a vote to accept or reject the NHL's proposed return-to-play format featuring a 24-team tournament in which the clubs with the top four records in each conference would receive byes into the first round while the teams seeded fifth through 12th would meet in a best-of-five play-in series. Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Las Vegas, St. Paul, Minn., and Columbus, Ohio, are considered top contenders. The top four seeds from each conference will avoid a play-in round while the remaining eight teams will engage in best-of-five series that will blur the division lines in order to complete the customary 16-team bracket for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No. 11 etc. Once the teams have been narrowed to 16, the following series would continue as traditional best-of-sevens.
"This plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the post-season gauntlet that is unique to the National Hockey League". The team clinched the first seed in the playoffs with nearly a month left in the regular season and then was upended by the hardened Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. The league has said it wants to ensure a full 82-game schedule in 2020-21.
The seven teams on the outside looking in would be Buffalo and New Jersey - which both sat just 0.007 percentage points back of Montreal - Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit.
Additional details regarding this format will be decided on in the near future. "I think for the situation we're in, for a year, I think that's fine". "It's still hockey, but I don't mind the format".