It’s been more than three months since the NHL paused its 2019-20 season due to COVID-19. (Yes, it’s really been that long.)

The league is gearing up to resume play. But when it does, they’ll forgo the remainder of the regular season in favor of a 24-team expanded playoff format, giving teams that were on the playoff bubble a chance to win their way into the postseason.

During an appearance on ESPN’s “The Return Of Sports” special Monday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed why the league ultimately decided to go with this particular format.

“We had 189 regular-season games left as of March 12 when we took the break,” Bettman said, as seen on ESPN. “So while the regular season was largely completed, we had a number of teams that were on the bubble. And you know we have extraordinary competitive balance (in the NHL) and any of those teams that were on the bubble outside of the top 16 in each conference had a legitimate chance of making the playoffs, some more than others. And we decided we needed play-in round to give those teams a chance to ultimately make the playoffs, and that’s going to be a best-of-five series.

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“And then, we’re going to the regular Stanley Cup playoffs, which is four rounds of best-of-seven with the 16 teams that are there. The top eight teams will be given a bye for the play-in round. But we’re going to be playing best-of-seven for four rounds, which is what it takes generally to determine the Stanley Cup champion. And I think everybody can feel good based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we’re going to run the playoffs that this will be a full competition, which will bring out the best in our teams and our players, and the Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports.”

The NHL currently is in Phase 3 of its reopening plan, with players slowly returning to their respective team facilities to start getting back into game shape. Training camps will formally begin July 10.

A date for Phase 4, when the league officially will resume play, has yet to be determined.

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