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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: The Playoff Format

The Oilers are going to miss the playoffs this year. But there’s a silver lining: The league’s general managers are considering adding more teams to the playoff structure. You might not have faith in Pistol Pete’s ability to pull this team up from the gutter, but if the league actually does go through and expand the playoffs, it could be so idiot-proof even he couldn’t screw it up.

Yesterday, over at The Athletic, Pierre LeBrun reported that with the league expanding to 32 teams (Seattle) pretty soon, general managers are discussing also changing the playoff format.

“More playoff teams [equals] more fan bases with the pleasure of experiencing the playoffs [which equals] more revenue for owners/players to share [which equals] more meaningful games for national rights holders [which equals] more GM/head coaches who can say they made the playoffs and hopefully keep their jobs [less turnover],” explained one NHL executive to LeBrun.

Not so fast! LeBrun sent Gary Bettman an email about expanding the playoffs and the league’s commissioner shut it down.

“Not something we’re (or will be) considering,” Bettman said.

Well, too bad, Gary, We’re going to talk about it anyway.

The two main points of conversation here are the amount of teams in the playoffs and the playoff format itself. That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. How would you change the NHL’s playoff format? More teams? Fewer teams? Kill the divisions? Make it so all the Canadian teams automatically make it? Have a March Madness style 32-team one-game-elimination format?

The amount of teams…

As primarily a baseball person, I think it’s hilarious anybody is actually considering the possibility of adding more teams to the NHL’s playoffs. More than half of the teams make the playoffs in this league already and they’re considering watering it down even further? That’s absurd to me. Having all of these teams in the playoffs makes the season largely meaningless. Adding more would make it even worse.

I obviously understand the idea of having more meaningful playoff games and what that can do for growing the sport and the league, but this seems like a bit of a contradiction. What you’re ultimately doing by adding more teams to the playoffs, whether it be adding wild card three-game play-in series like suggested or just expanding the bracket, is making the season less meaningful.

I would honestly prefer fewer teams in the playoffs because, again, it would make the season mean more.

The format…

The GMs want to go back to the one-vs-eight style format. I can see why. Take a look at the Eastern Conference right now. The best three teams are in the Atlantic Division and No. 2 and No. 3 in the East are more than likely going to play each other in the first round while a weaker team like Washington or Philadelphia is going to make it through to the second round.

That said, this format ultimately guarantees some awesome first-round matchups like Toronto vs Boston, which is a good thing. Teams like these facing each other in the first couple rounds because of the divisional format is doing its job in creating rivalries. Just look at us and Anaheim. It just isn’t the same with the one-vs-eight format because of the random matchups that come with it.

I think the NFL has it right in which eight division winners make the playoffs and then four wild card teams fill up the bracket. There’s meaningful competition for division banners, meaningful competition after that for seeding and first-round byes, and meaningful competition for accessible wild card spots. Seldom do horrible teams make the NFL playoffs. It kind of works two-fold in making the season meaningful and creating rivalries.

What say you, Nation? How should the league format the NHL’s playoffs? More teams? Fewer teams? Same format? Old format? Brand new format? 


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  • Mark Lesser

    Top four in each division make it. Then seed 1-16. Would have liked Oilers Flames Cup in the 80s, Red wings Avs, Rangers Devils in the 90s. NHL seeded 1-16 for two years and it gave the 1980 Stanley Cup which is still one of the all time classics. Make it a 2-3-2 to cut down on travel.

  • Oilfan11

    Eliminate division winners automatically getting the top 3 spots, base standings on points only then either 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7 etc or top 16 teams make it in regardless of division/conference then 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15 etc.

  • OilRider

    The obvious “easy solution”, is to keep the current format of qualification (top 3 per division + 2 wild cards) but then just seed them 1v8, 2v7, etc. It increases the likelihood of divisional matchups but also helps stronger teams advance instead of eliminating them early.

    I’d be curious to see some crazy idea though. I agree that too many teams already make the playoffs, so what if you did it NFL style?
    Top 2 teams in each division, plus 2 wild cards (per conference). That gives you 12 teams instead of 16.
    The 2nd place teams play the wild cards in a best-of-3, while the division winners get byes. After that, when it’s down to 8 teams you go best-of-7.

    Thoughts? I assume this comment will get trashed, but I’m curious what other kind of crazy ideas might work for the NHL playoffs

    • Serious Gord

      Any reduction in the number of teams getting into the playoffs and thus a reduction in playoff games and gate is a complete non-starter.

      My biggest beef is how the playoffs run into the summer. I think that can be addressed by reducing the pre season by a week and starting the regular season two weeks earlier and eliminating the all star game.

    • crabman

      less teams means less revenue for the league. Giving the top team a bye helps their chances of winning a cup but they get penalized by missing a round of playoff home games revenue as well.

  • oilerjed

    I would like to see a best of 5 divisional playoffs to see who comes out of each division and the the runner ups from each division play a single game knock out to fill out the semi finals. Could make for some interesting cross overs.
    The divisional losers could then play a playoff bracket for the #1,2 & 3 picks. remaining picks go in order of league standings. This way owners would still get there same number of games in, possibly have a few extra every year. TV is happy, owners are happy and fans all have something to cheer for right until the end.

  • Serious Gord

    I’m okay with the format as it stands except once we get to the semifinals. At that point the final four should be reseeded 1-4. By doing that it makes it possible that any team could face any other team in a cup final – iow the leafs could play the habs or the flames could play the oil.

    That said playing 1-8 in the earlier rounds to give more reward to the conference winners makes some sense too even though it kind of makes a the divisions a little less meaningful.

  • rossy2623

    For 1 vs 8, the NHL should make the structure with the equal number of conference games. then we might find real 1 seeded vs 8 seeded. I like the current format because it has more rivalry. To me, if you are stronger you should be able to win.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    I have always been a proponent of 2 leagues (like Baseball & NFL).
    Not only does this create better rivals. The point race becomes much more interesting.
    As well as team travel is reduced (always a problem with the Western Teams.)
    How would you split the leagues? Part of me says a predominant Canada division.
    However, thinking it further, I’d like to see Canada represented in every division to see how they fare in the standings.
    This format may have better teams playing each other deeper in the playoffs. It’d be more interesting in the Regular season I think? If nothing else.

  • VK63

    These initiatives (expanded playoffs) are to drive interest in lowly fan bases rooted in what Norm O’Reilly calls “the hope statistic”. The longer a fan base believes they are still “in it” the longer they will stay engaged with the team.

    And then theres Florida……. the marketing department is stocked to the brim with people with fancy titles and theres more empties staring at that team than there is at Wanye manor. Call that situation the fly in the ointment.
    Norm’s paper. Pretty cool actually.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227450872_The_Hope_Statistic_as_an_Alternative_Measure_of_Competitive_Balance

  • Baz17

    My thoughts – 20 team make the playoffs – 10 on each side. Wild card best of 3 round (each team gets at least one home game) – 7 plays 10, 8 plays 9. Over in 5 days max. Then playoff format follow current format #1 seed plays the worst wildcard team, #2 plays #3 in each division. The beauty of this is that it creates two regular season races, one to make the playoffs and another to avoid the wildcard round.

  • A-Mc

    Definitely like the 1vs8 approach.

    With the current system, a better team could miss the playoffs (or have an early exit) purely because of the division they play in. The clubs should not be penalized for something they cannot control. You work hard all season to get your points: the playoff format should reward the teams who got the most points.