Don’t Expand The NHL Playoff Format

Don’t Expand The NHL Playoff Format

Now and again, I find myself in agreement with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Like this past week, when the commish shot down the notion of expanding the NHL playoff format.

There is no proposal,” Bettman told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “You’re making it sound like there’s this movement out there. There isn’t.”

Bettman was referring to what Friedman called the “concept” where the top-three seeds in each division get a bye through a “play-in” round. “The next four teams would meet in a one-versus-four, two-versus-three setup. The winners of those two setups would move on”. The “play-in” round would be a best-of-three format.

Oh, goody. Just what we need, adding another week to an already too-long postseason following a too-long regular season.

The current playoff format, in which 16 out of 31 teams qualify, is fair enough. They play an 82-game schedule starting in early-October and ending in early-April to eliminate half the teams. Yes, it seems a tad pointless to go through that much of a slog just to determine which half of the league gets into the big dance, but so be it.

After that comes four grueling best-of-seven rounds that whittle away at those 16 clubs until finally a Stanley Cup champion is crowned in early-to-mid June.

Friedman wasn’t sure who dreamed up this “play-in” concept, though he said one source suggested it came about over frustration over how missing the playoffs hurt ticket revenue. To which I say, if a team owner or general manager wants a taste of that sweet playoff revenue, do a better job building and maintaining a postseason contender.

As Bettman noted, this “play-in” round concept isn’t exactly fair to teams that qualify for the final postseason seeds. “If you’re a team that was in the eighth slot, and you lose, your season ends in a disaster.”

Friedman thinks the league is missing an opportunity for some great hockey, but as the commissioner noted, we’re already getting that in the opening round. He considers it unfair to wear out a couple of teams before they get to play in the first round.

Besides, we already see some great hockey in that final couple of weeks of the regular season as teams in contention for the final playoff berths jockey for position down the stretch. The final games down the stretch can set the stage for some exciting finishes.

I love following the NHL, and not just because I’m able to eke out a comfortable living covering the league as a freelancer. But at the risk of sounding like a grouchy old coot yelling at a cloud, the last thing the league needs is something that pushes the end of the playoffs deeper into the month of June.

Hockey should be over by the end of May, not dragging into June when interest wanes as the fans turn toward summer activities.

If there’s going to be any changes to the playoff format, it should be shortening the opening two rounds. The first round could be a best-of-three and the second a best-of-five. I’m also ok with those two rounds being best-of-five. The Conference Finals and the Cup Final should be best-of-seven. That way, the playoffs could be over by the end of May.

Of course, that’s just a pipe dream on my part. Shortening the playoffs means cutting into that lucrative revenue, something the owners would never go for.

Thankfully, at least, Bettman is against adding another round. Nice to see he’s bowing to common sense. Hopefully, he’ll do the same with the next round of collective bargaining and avoid another lockout.