It’s almost all but certain we’re going to get some sort of 24 team playoff this summer. The NHLPA authorized it in an executive vote on Friday and while the exact format is going to be tinkered with somewhat, it seems that the NHL is leaning towards the top four seeds in each conference being assured spots in the “final 16” while the remaining top eight teams go through an extra “play-in” round.
Look, I don’t want to be one of those that some media types would call “ungrateful” by suggesting that this 24 team playoff format is kind of dumb, but it’s kind of dumb.
The Oilers – currently second in the Pacific division – would have to try and “play-in” when the chances of them finishing top three in that division were greater than 90%?
The top seeds in both conferences (Boston and St. Louis for now, although it’s been suggested that could change with a series of games taking place while the play-in round happens) would be put up against the winner of the #8 vs #9 series, while the #2 seed in each conference (Tampa Bay and Colorado) would get arguably a more favorable matchup against a #7 or #10 seed.
The 72 point Chicago Blackhawks would be included? The 71 point Montreal Canadiens would be included? SportsClubStats.com at the moment the league was forced to hit the pause button had their chances of making the playoffs at 0.0% and 2.6% respectively.
Of course we know why Montreal and Chicago would be included, the NHL is eyeing those sweet TV ratings. Do you think the league would care to extend the playoffs this much if Columbus and Winnipeg were the 12th teams in each conference? Not a chance.
Lock in more teams
The idea that just the top four seeds in each conference make the playoffs is a little bit dumb. It wasn’t like there was a lot of hockey left to be played, each team only had 12 or 13 games remaining. Again, if we’re looking at odds and probabilities, SportsClubStats.com (I swear, this isn’t an ad for them, it’s just a very neat resource site you should have bookmarked) had 11 teams with an 80% likelihood of making the playoffs.
If we were to look at the NHL standings by conference, and by points percentage, every team from the seventh seed and up has at least a 78% probability (or higher) of making the playoffs.
So why is it just the top four on each side are locked in for the round of 16? As it is, in my humble opinion, there is a better, more fair way to go about this. Sorry Montreal and Chicago, it doesn’t involve you. Maybe to make it up to you, we’ll let you play each other in the next big outdoor game next season.
The 22 Team Playoff
The first thing you need to know is that the top seven in each conference (again by points percentage which makes it fair for teams like the New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators who all had less points, but also fewer games played) are in the final 16. We’ll get to these teams in a moment..
The next four teams in each conference would be entered in a play-in bracket. The #8 seed faces the #11 seed while the #9 seed takes on the #10 seed. This play-in mini tournament would be a best of three, done over four nights. (Games one and two on consecutive nights, a night off and then game three the following night)
You’d have the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the New York Rangers, and Columbus Blue Jackets against the Florida Panthers out east. In the west the Calgary Flames would take on the Arizona Coyotes while the Winnipeg Jets get to once again hook up against the Minnesota Wild.
Once that first round is done, the winners of those series would play each other in another best of three, the winner claims the eighth seed for their conference outright and goes on to the final 16 playoff.
What do the other 14 teams not in this play-in bracket do? Since we’re giving the team that will ultimately claim the #8 seed anywhere from four to six games, the top 14 teams play in a six game round robin with current point totals playing a role in how the final seeding plays out.
From there, once the play-in and round robin games are complete and we have our top eight teams on each side, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs start proper with the conference format that was used during the 1990’s. #1 versus #8, #2 against #7, and so on. Best of seven series, each round is re-seeded. (So if the #1 seed wins while the #7 seed pulls off an upset, the second round is #1 versus #7)
Is it perfect? Probably not. There is some truth to the statement that nothing the NHL is going to do from here on out will be perfect or make everyone happy, but when has that ever been the case anyway? Remember two years ago how we thought it was a shame that the #1 and #2 seeds in the entire NHL were meeting in the second round of the playoffs? Hockey fans and complaining about hockey is about as natural a pairing as Paul Maurice and swearing.
But it’s a more ideal playoff format than the 24 team playoff.
And it doesn’t involve Montreal and Chicago. Again, sorry Habs and Hawks fans.