Proposed NHL Playoff Picture: Good for the League or Too Many Men on the Ice?
One of the biggest things that the sports world is trying to figure out, besides when they’re going to get back to playing, is how things will look for the postseason. That’s more a factor in the NBA and the NHL at this stage of the game as the NFL is months away from their scheduled regular season start. Meanwhile, MLB is still in the phase of trying to get their season off the ground at this point in time. While the NBA has yet to determine how things will play out regarding the conclusion of their regular season and the playoffs, there have been several options kicked around for the NHL’s eventual return.
The biggest concept is that the league would expand the postseason from 16 to 24 teams this season. Under that concept, the top six teams in each division would take the ice, likely in a hub-type format where all the teams are housed in the same city to play at one venue. In that format, the top two teams in a division would be guaranteed playoff teams, almost as if they received byes. Their sole battle would be to determine the division champion in a best of three set. The other teams would square off, #3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5, in best of three series to advance. The winners of those series, along with the top two teams in each division, would advance to a normal 16-team playoff field and, one assumes, battle in best of seven series to determine a winner.
With that said, what are the pros and cons of this system and is it something that the league may look more in depth at going forward in a more regular season? Let’s take a look:
Bonus Playoff Hockey: This one is kind of obvious. If you expand the field, even in shortened series like a best of three, you get bonus hockey. The best of three series concept was in play back in the late-1970s with teams needing to win those series to join the four division winners in the quarterfinals. Even in the early 1980s before playoff seeding was based on divisions, teams played best of five series in the opening round before moving forward. In this case, you get to see eight extra teams take the ice in the early going of the postseason and that always creates the potential for excitement and potential upsets.
Bolstered TV Ratings: Never mind the fact that fans have been foaming at the mouth for the return of pro sports. Throwing in more teams easily should help drive the ratings of telecasts as well. Cities and region that would perhaps not be as interested in tuning in because their teams are out of the postseason picture could well tune in because their team is involved. With the league looking to avoid having to owe credits to their broadcast partners for next season since most of the money is recouped during the postseason, having more opportunities for TV merely helps offset that potential landmine.
Sheer Chaos: Let’s be honest. When you play in best of three series, the potential for massive upsets is there and, in some cases, likely, All it takes is a bad bounce or two in a short series, or running into a hot goaltender, to end your season in the blink of an eye. While there are those who would be bitter that their favorite team saw their season come to an abrupt end at the hands of a mediocre (or worse) team, the fact remains that things like that drive interest. One needs to look no further than March Madness to see how the public loves to rally behind the underdog, regardless of which sport we’re talking about.
Divisional Imbalance: While having 24 teams in the playoffs is a positive, the fact that the divisions are anything but even is a major factor. Under this format, teams like Montreal (.500 winning percentage) and Buffalo (.493) would get in from the Atlantic Division, while Anaheim (.472) would make the playoffs from the Pacific Division. By the same token, the Rangers (.564 winning percentage) would miss in the Metropolitan Division while Chicago (.514) would be out in the Central. That’s a major imbalance to say the least. If you were going to do 24 teams, taking the top 12 teams by winning percentage per conference would alleviate those issues by pushing the Rangers and Blackhawks into the playoff picture. Under that concept, at least every playoff team would be, at worse, a .500 team.
Weak Playoff Teams Making the Field: As mentioned above, there aren’t a ton of people that would be thrilled to see Montreal, Buffalo and Anaheim in the postseason. After all, those teams were 10, 13 and 11 points out of a playoff spot when the season was paused back in March, respectively, with Montreal and Anaheim having 11 games left while Buffalo had 13. Teams like Toronto and Calgary, who held the final guaranteed playoff spots in the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions, respectively, would have their fan bases in uproar if they were somehow upended in the opening round. Florida was still in the mix for either the final guaranteed spot in the Atlantic or a wild-card spot and would be less than thrilled to get upended by Montreal.
Too Crowded a Field: This one is more a potential issue for potential casual bettors as opposed to someone that just likes to watch sports or a sharp. If you’re not betting at all or if you’re well-versed in seeing how teams play, this isn’t a major factor for you. However, if you’re tentatively stepping into the water and looking to make a couple of bets to test the waters, this kind of field is daunting. It makes for a lot of uncertainty as to who to lean on, who might be primed to pull out a victory in the early rounds or who could be hoisting Lord Stanley’s chalice when all is said and done.
There are likely more pros and cons to this system but these are the biggest ones. What’s your take on the potential expanded playoff picture?