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Brackets are out as NHL finalizes playoff plan

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Panthers and Islanders will go best-of-five to start

NHL: DEC 12 Islanders at Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The National Hockey League has announced more details of its playoff format for the 2019-20 Return To Play Plan:

Series Lengths

The Qualifying Round, which includes the Florida Panthers - New York Islanders series, will be composed of best-of-five series. All other rounds (First Round, Second Round, Conference Finals, Stanley Cup Final) will be the usual best-of-seven series.

“Seeding” Format

In each succeeding round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the highest remaining seed in each conference will face the lowest remaining seed, the second-highest remaining seed in each conference will face the second-lowest remaining seed, etc.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Say the Montreal Canadiens (12) upset the Pittsburgh Penguins (5), then the top seed in the Eastern Conference, right now the Boston Bruins, should draw the Habs, not the winner of the Toronto Maple Leafs (8) - Columbus Blue Jackets (9) series.

So, if the Panthers advance, instead of being locked into facing the two seed, they could play any one of Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington or Philadelphia depending on how the other qualifying series play out.

Round Robin Tiebreaker

Ties in the Round Robin – which features the top four teams from each conference – will be broken by regular season points percentage. The seeding order for these teams then will remain the same throughout the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This is the one area of the playoff format I am not happy about. I agree that the top four teams in each conference need to play each other to work the rust off, but I would have much rather seen a weighted round robin with the Bruins taking 3 points into it, the Tampa Bay Lightning 2 points, the Washington Capitals 1 point and the Philadelphia Flyers 0 points. Based on how far ahead of the pack the Bruins were in March, it should be much harder for them to end up as the four seed after the robin round, which is now entirely possible.

“Home” Ice

* In the Qualifying Round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.

* In the First Round, Second Round and Conference Finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

* In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

This announcement follows approval by the League’s Board of Governors and the National Hockey League Players’ Association. The agreement is subject to the NHL and the NHLPA reaching an overall agreement on resuming play.

The league also announced it has enter Phase 2 of its Return To Play protocol. Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning. Phase 2 is not a substitute for training camp.