PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — The NHL has announced the league will go straight to a 24-team playoff if it can resume its season. The season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic back in March.

The league and the players union still have to figure out health and safety protocols and where to play.

The Flyers currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The orange and black will play in a three-game round-robin to determine seeding for the playoffs.

Download The New And Improved CBS Philly App!

Play could resume in late July, with the Stanley Cup Final decided in September or even later.

Groups of 12 teams representing each of the two conferences will be limited to playing in two cities, yet to be determined, with three-week training camps opening no earlier than July 1. Bettman said voluntary workouts could begin in early June.

“We hope this is a step back toward normalcy,” Bettman said.

Earlier this week, the league and NHLPA issued extensive protocols once players are allowed to return to their facilities. They include a maximum of six players on the ice at a time, no contact and no coaches for voluntary workouts.

Instead of limiting the Cup chase to the usual 16 teams that qualify for the playoffs, the league and players agreed to expand the field to 24 of its 31 teams because of the unusual circumstances.

‘It’s All About Family’: Flyers Warriors Hockey Team Finding Creative Ways To Stick Together During Pandemic

That means the likes of the Montreal Canadiens are still alive despite being nine points out of a playoff spot when hockey was halted March 12. But not all teams will have the same path to hockey’s storied trophy.

The top four teams in each conference ranked by points percentage — Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West — will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding.

The remaining 16 teams will be seeded by conference, setting up best-of-five series in the East of No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Montreal, No. 6 Carolina vs. No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida and No. 8 Toronto vs. No. 9 Columbus. In the West, it would be No. 5 Edmonton vs. No. 12 Chicago, No. 6 Nashville vs. No. 11 Arizona, No. 7 Vancouver vs. No. 10 Minnesota and No. 8 Calgary vs. No. 9 Winnipeg.

“Any plan for the resumption of play by definition cannot be perfect,” Bettman said. “But we believe we have constructed an overall plan that includes all teams that as a practical matter might have had a chance of qualifying for the playoffs when the season was paused, and this plan will produce a worthy Stanley Cup champion who will have run the postseason gauntlet that is unique to the NHL.”

Games are expected to be played in two hub cities and Bettman said 10 are in the running: Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis/St. Paul in the U.S. and Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.

Philadelphia 76ers To Begin ‘Phased Reopening For Voluntary, Individual Workouts’ At Camden Complex

While there are still details to work out, including whether the first two rounds are best of five or seven, Bettman said he expects the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final to be played in full in one of the two hub cities. Each team would be limited to a total of 50 people in the city it plays in.

“It’s not easy getting everybody on board with all the different countries, the players, the teams that were in the playoffs, teams that may not be in the playoffs and getting that all agreed upon with the union,” Buffalo Sabres owner Kim Pegula told The Associated Press. “For us to even finish the season and award (the Stanley Cup), I know a lot of work went into it. But I know how important it was for our players, our fans, our league to make sure that we conclude it.”

The decision to call off the 189 regular-season games that were not played ends the season for Buffalo, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Ottawa and Detroit.

Those seven teams will now prepare for one of potentially two draft lotteries to determine the top 15 selections. The lottery will be held June 26, with another scheduled later depending on which of the remaining eight teams qualify for the 16-team playoff.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)