Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday Thoughts: Outrage Over NHL Playoff Format Is Odd…

Maybe it is the 78 days without hockey that has many riled up, but I’ll admit I’m a bit perplexed by the frustration penned by some about the NHL potentially having 24 teams in the playoffs.

We are in unprecedented times. There is no blueprint on how to finish a suspended season.

Is there a “best way to finish the season” scenario? Not from where I sit. There will be different suggestions, but ultimately, if the NHL resumes the 2019/2020 season it will be different than any season prior. However, that shouldn’t make it any less important than other seasons.

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1. The main reason the NHL is considering expanding the playoffs to include 24 teams is finances. Teams and players will lose a lot of revenue without fans in the stands paying for their seats and buying food, beverages and merchandise. The losses will be massive. Increasing the playoffs to 24 teams will, hopefully, reduce those losses a bit, by at least maximizing their TV, radio and Internet revenue.

2. Having more teams equates to more playoff games. Now, the first round might simply be a play-in round with the third-sixth and fourth-fifth seeds in each division playing one another in a best of three to earn a spot in the “normal” playoff format of 16 teams. Whatever format they decide to go to, won’t be normal. Even if they complete the regular season, those final games will be different than the originally scheduled games because teams will likely only play divisional games.

3. Edmonton has 11 games remaining, but only five are against Pacific Division foes. The other six were to be against NYI, PHI, WSH, OTT, TB and COL. The Boston Bruins were scheduled to play seven or their remaining 12 games against non-divisional opponents. Most teams were in a similar position with six or seven of their remaining games against non-divisional opponents. So even if the NHL completes the regular season, it will be with an adjusted schedule. I’m sure some will complain and make claims the season deserves and asterisk, but I’d view that as pointless complaining.

4.  For years, we’ve read suggestions the NHL expand their playoffs to include a play-in game. Some suggested the ninth place team should play the eighth place team. Others suggested 7 v. 10 as well. Personally, I wasn’t in favour of that, but I understood the suggestion, and if the NHL had implemented it I’d have gladly watched those games. A one-game playoff is great theatre. And this season, if the NHL decides to complete a (pick a number) 72, 74 or 76-game schedule and then goes with a best-of-three play-in round between the third-sixth seeded teams, I can understand why they would. And I will gladly watch it. The current landscape is not normal, and expecting the conclusion of the season, or the playoffs, to be what we are accustomed to is unrealistic.

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5. Speaking of odd playoff formats: How come in the Original Six days the #1 seed played #3 and #2 played #4? They kept this format for the first few years of the 12-league expansion as well, until changing it to 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 for the 1971/1972 season. Does that mean Cup winners from 1942-1971 have an asterisk? No, just like whoever wins this season shouldn’t have one.

6. We don’t know if the NHL will conduct the 2020 draft in June, and because the NHL hasn’t officially announced its plans, we are seeing lots of draft rankings come out. I enjoy reading them, but I’d love if they would stop with the “deep draft” analysis. We often hear that and it means very little. One GM, scout or writer’s definition of deep draft will differ from the next. Does it mean deep in the first round, into the second or even the third round? It is simply repeated yearly and often it means very little.

Let’s look at the 2015 draft, which many claimed was a “deep draft.”

Five years later here are players taken in the second round who are making impacts in the NHL.

Travis Dermott, Sebastian Aho, Brandon Carlo, MacKenzie Blackwood, Roope Hintz, Jordan Greenway, Rasmus Anderson, Vince Dunn. So eight out of 31 picks.

Third round produced Anthoney Cirelli.

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Some quality players and the eight from the second round, who play that much, is higher than normal. I guess we could say it was “deeper,” but it is still only 26% of the players in the second round who are impactful five years later. It simply illustrates how difficult it is to find impactful players past the first round. Trading down from 20th or 22nd to get a late first rounder and late second rounder, for instance, is still a risk. I’d take quality over quantity any day, especially when it comes to drafting 18 year olds.

7. I’m still in favour of holding the draft after the playoffs. I see very little benefit to having it sooner and every GM and scout I’ve interacted with the past three weeks feels the same way. I hope the NHL listens to the people in hockey operations.

8. Did you watch Bundesliga soccer this weekend without fans? What were your thoughts? Did you like the broadcast? What would you like to see when the NHL returns with no fans? What stood out most for me was the lack of atmosphere. I expected it to be subdued, but no fans really illustrated a lack of excitement. I did like hearing the players and coaches more though. The fan noise makes the game seem more exciting, and if I was Gary Bettman or other commissioners I’d be looking at ways to manufacture that. Of course it won’t be the same as real fans, but the NHL needs to do more than what I saw this past weekend on TV to make fans want to watch.

9. I really enjoyed The Last Dance documentary. There were many fascinating revelations. Scottie Pippen not going in the game for the final possession. Then Pippen playing through horrible back pain in game six of the 1998 Final. Dennis Rodman asking for a break to go to Vegas. And this clip from Michael Jordan explaining his viewpoint on pushing himself and his teammates.

The end of the clip, when Jordan gets emotional is fantastic and what good documentaries should bring out. Many won’t be able to relate to his demanding personality. It worked for him, and his teammates, the ones who had to deal with it, said it made them better, even though it was difficult.

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There is no one perfect way to lead, especially when team sports are so different. Basketball superstars impact the game more, because they are on the court for 80-95% of the time. That isn’t the case in football, hockey or baseball.

It was a fascinating look at one of the greatest teams in NBA history, and, for my money, the greatest player, in league history. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it.