The NHL and the NHLPA are discussing a 24-team, conference-based playoff format for a potential restart to the 2019-20 season this summer, sources confirmed to ESPN. The proposed format was first reported by Sportsnet. The NHL season has been on pause since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The playoffs would be conference-based and would remain bracketed, replacing the divisional wild-card format the league has used since 2013. The top four seeds, as determined by their standings points’ percentage when the regular season was paused, would receive byes through a round of best-of-five play-in series that would feature 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.

The NHL will likely utilize only two "hub" cities for its restart if the proposed 24-team, conference-based playoff format is approved by the league and the NHLPA, an NHL source told ESPN. The NHL explored using four "hub" arena sites for the restart. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that eight or nine locations are under consideration.

Fans will not be allowed at the games, and logistics remain a work in progress. The NHLPA executive committee will meet Thursday to discuss the format and other "return to play" issues.

The proposed format also would have the top four seeds participating in a three-game tournament during the play-in round, thereby alleviating concerns from top teams that they could be rusty and facing sharper teams coming off first-round games. It hasn't been determined if the mini-tournament among the top four conference teams will have an impact on seeding.

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