Let’s Talk About the NHL’s Playoff Format

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
11 months ago
The current NHL playoff format isn’t perfect. I know a lot of people are clamouring for the league to bring back the 1-vs-8 format that it had run up until 2014 when it flipped to this current divisional format.
I actually understand why the league did what they did the change. I think it does help with the rivalries in each division and it makes sense to have teams that play each other more throughout the season have to go head-to-head in the first round of the playoffs. The wild card races have the potential to be good as well, although in recent years that has not been the case.
The one thing I don’t like is how the wild card is handled. I would personally prefer that they had four teams from each division make it and keep the door open for a crossover. This season there is a chance that one wild card in the Western Conference is from each division and yet those teams will play the first seed from the other division. If the reasoning for this format is to build rivalries and bring more meaning to the divisional games, then that shouldn’t happen.
If the fifth seed from the Central is better than the fourth seed from the Pacific Division, then sure, have the crossover. But that’s one beef I have with the current format.
I wouldn’t complain about the league flipping back to the 1-vs-8 format, but I’m not someone who really hates the way it’s currently done. Even at 1 vs 8, a lot of these matchups could stay the same.
What about the idea of expanding the NHL playoff format though? I’m torn on this one, but an NBA-style play-in tournament does intrigue me and I’ll explain why.
Here’s how it would work: you add in two more wild-card teams and create a “wild-card round”. The #10 seed would play the #9 seed in a win or your done game. That same night, the #7 seed would play the #8 seed with the winner claiming a spot in the playoffs as the #7 seed and the loser moving on to play the winner of the #9 vs #10 game.
The #7 seed would get home ice in this play-in series, which is an advantage.
The #8 seed would get a second life since they could lose the first game and then host the second game. There are a few advantages there.
The #9 seed would have a home-ice advantage for their single elimination game. That’s an advantage.
The #10 seed… well, they’re just going to be happy to be there.
This would make the first few days of the playoffs potentially even more electric than it already is. Imagine starting things off with the equivalent of two-game sevens within the first couple of days in each conference. Awesome.
This would also make the end of the regular season way more exciting. Right now there are basically two things that teams are fighting for down the stretch: a few teams are fighting for a playoff berth and some are trying to get home ice. That’s it.
With this expanded format, there would still be races for home-ice advantage but there would be more:
  • Teams pushing for sixth in their conference so that they avoid the play-in tournament.
  • Teams in the race for the play-in will be fighting for the higher spot to get the before mentioned advantages.
  • More teams pushing for the #10 seed and the final playoff spot.
The last few seasons haven’t had a lot of fireworks to end the regular season. Adding more playoff teams would surely change that. Go look at the conference standings right now and it becomes very apparent.
There are some things I don’t love about this.
First off, having exactly 50% of the league’s 32 teams make the playoffs is a really nice number. I like that. Although, this format would still eventually get to 16 teams playing in a best-of-seven.
Also, this would be a scheduling nightmare. Having to be fully flexible for building availabilities could make this whole thing a non-starter.
That’s about all I have though. Other major leagues have changed their playoff formats recently and with the NHL expanding twice in the last decade, maybe it’s time they take a look at reworking how the Stanley Cup playoffs work.

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