CHICAGO -- The NHL could announce plans to finish its stalled season as early as next week, according to multiple reports.
And if the Return to Play committee -- formed by league officials and the players union -- sticks with one proposal that has been discussed for weeks, the season would jump right to the playoffs under a 24-team play-in format -- and the Chicago Blackhawks would be the last team in from the Western Conference.
Expanding the playoffs from 16 teams to 24 would be a concession to the clubs that were in the running for a playoff spot before the NHL suspended the season March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic -- and it would expand the TV markets that might tune in.
Whatever the format, the relaunch likely will be take place in eight or nine hub cities, according to reports.
"My feeling is there is gaining momentum on a plan," Flames general manager Brad Treliving told the Calgary Herald, though he didn't reveal details. "Everything is going to be subject to when you can execute the plan. They're hopefully getting to a point (where a decision will be made). But we'll see. But hopefully by next week we could be in a position where they have a plan."
If the NHL went with 24 playoff teams, the 32-30-8 Hawks, who are six points back in the wild card, would make the cut as the 12th-place team in the West.
Depending on how the top-four bye teams would be chosen, the Hawks would face the Stars or Oilers in a likely best-of-three play-in series. The Stars have a better winning percentage (.594 to .585), but the Oilers are second in the Pacific Division while the Stars are third in the Central, and the Oilers have played two more games.
It should be noted, though, that a 20-team playoff structure also has been pitched. And not everyone is on board with the idea of a 24-team postseason, according to The Athletic hockey columnist Pierre LeBrun.
"I don't think the 24-team play-in format sits well with everyone," LeBrun wrote Thursday. "There are some on the players' side but also among team executives who feel it doesn't pass the smell test as far as fairness to reward Chicago and Montreal with a ticket to the season-ending dance."
The Hawks were dogged by injuries this season, particularly on defense, and they traded goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson at the deadline in February.
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