Tournament Time for the NHL?

With the 2016 World Cup of Hockey complete we can look back on a successful tournament for the NHL and the players. There is much to talk about with the actual event itself, but I have one idea that I have been talking about for years that this event perfectly illustrates.

The topic is putting more teams in the NHL playoffs

In terms of the 4 best-of-7 series to win the Stanley Cup, I prefer to keep that format. However, with 30 teams in the league, growing next year to 31 with Las Vegas expansion, the topic of the right number of playoff teams should be discussed.

If the NHL wants ‘parity’ or ‘competitive balance’ or whatever other euphemism they want to attach, then constant expansion also needs a corresponding uptick in the chance to win something.

What the World Cup of Hockey illustrates, with the Round Robin portion, is that a short 8 team tournament can be completed quickly.

My idea has long been to incorporate this scenario into the playoff mix. This would allow the NHL to add teams to the hunt without creating a weird or overextended playoff format.

The concept would go like this.

The NHL season could end on a Sunday as it has for a long time, then the 7-8-9-10 teams in each conference would go to a host city and play a short tournament with 3 games in 4 days each. This could run Tuesday through Friday, more compressed than the World Cup round robin but not more grueling than many NHL weekends. Meanwhile, teams 3-6 in each conference could start their series with 3-6 and 4-5 playing as usual beginning Wednesday or Thursday. The top 2 teams in each conference would get time off and await their opponents, which would be the top 2 finishers in the 7-8-9-10 tournament. Those series of 1 & 2 versus the tourney winners could start the next Sunday.

Then round #1 looks like normal and rounds 2-4 are exactly the same.

This format allows a number of attractive benefits:

  1. It allows 10 teams in each conference to compete in the playoffs.
  2. Teams flirting with 10th place, which are most teams these days, would feel in it right till the end of the regular season.
  3. The short tournament is a play-in event, so there is high drama and should produce exciting games, which should grab good TV ratings.
  4. The tournament provides 12 games worth of gate receipts. Generating interest in a host city will be key, but cities could bid for the tournaments like the major junior cities do for the Memorial Cup.
  5. The top 2 positions in each conference now come with a rest period, so there is extra incentive to play for those positions, increasing regular season competition.
  6. Even though top teams get rest, the tournament winners will have momentum, so there is as good or better odds of first round upsets.

There are pros and cons to everything, but adding more rounds to the playoffs looks very messy and waters things down. This plan provides a lot of pluses to the overall game of hockey in my opinion. I have been touting this idea for years, but now that we just witnessed this format in action with the World Cup maybe it will get some consideration. 

For the corporate agenda the NHL has of giving every team a chance through ‘parity’ / ‘competitive balance’ this plan pushes more games to be meaningful during the regular season and most teams never falling out of contention for a shot at the title.

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