Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let's Expand the NHL Playoffs

Expanding the NHL playoffs is all the rage on Hockey Twitter, and that's in large part to TSN's Bob McKenzie's column from yesterday.

Because Bob is the biggest media insider in the world of hockey, he was able to pose the question to the league's general managers: should the playoffs be expanded?

Here's what they suggested:

Play-In Game For The Last Wild Card Spot

Oh you mean like baseball? Lame.

Play-In Series For The Last Wild Card Spots

Yes! Let's showcase the crappiest teams possible to get everyone in the mood for playoff hockey! No, that's a terrible idea.

So try again, guys. We'll work this out eventually. The important takeaway is that 21 of the 28 general managers that McKenzie surveyed would be in favor of some time of playoff expansion. It's more games, which means more money. It means more teams have a chance to make a run at the Cup, which means more money. And it leans in favor of expansion, which, again, means more money.

The minor forms of expansion they suggested are fine, and that's probably what's going to end up happening. But let's pretend, just for one minute, that the NHL decided to completely overhaul the playoffs.

Who Makes The Playoffs

When the league had 21 teams, 16 of them made the postseason. Now, with 30 teams, the same 16 make it past the regular season. Proportionally (and accounting for expansion), there should be 24 teams in the playoffs each year.

That nicely works out to six teams per conference - Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific (we're going to put the Las Vegas team in the Pacific, the Quebec City team in the Atlantic, and move the Red Wings back to the Central).

If you don't finish in the top six in your division, you're fucking out. That's as simple as it gets.

Playoff Format

The most important thing to keep in mind when planning for an expansion like this is we don't want to diminish the value of the regular season. The 8 teams at the bottom of the league probably aren't going to be competitive all year, but the rest of the league still needs a reason to battle before the playoffs start.

So, let's adjust how home-ice advantage works for the first two rounds:

  • #1 seeds - 6/7 games per series at home
  • #2 seeds - 5/7 games per series at home
  • #3 seeds - 4/7 games per series at home
The #3 seeds will have the current standard four home games per series (2-2-1-1-1 format). The #2 seeds will play in a 2-1-2-1-1, with five games at home. And the reward for finishing first in the division is the 3-1-3 series format, with six games at home. 

Two important notes here: first, if a #1 or #2 seed is eliminated, home ice advantage will return to the current standard 2-2-1-1-1 format, with the higher-seeded team hosting four home games. And second, the Semifinals, Conference Finals, and Stanley Cup Final will be played as traditional 2-2-1-1-1 series. 

Divisional Round (24 --> 12)

The top seeds play the bottom seeds, so the matchups are 1-6, 2-5, and 3-4 in each of the four divisions. This is where is gets tricky, because it's almost impossible to start a bracket with six teams. But bear with me, and we'll see where this goes. 

The three teams that win their series advance to the next round. Duh. 

Conference Quarterfinals (12 --> 6)

The first round went by division. This round, we expand to the entire conference and re-seed based on the regular season. 

And then we do the whole thing over again and eliminate three teams from each conference. The new home ice advantage rules apply, which should allow the most successful teams from the regular season to reap the benefits. 

That gets us down to three teams on each side, but it'd be really nice if we could add one more to make it an even four. 

Wild Card Round (6 --> 8)

Bam! Let's bring two teams back to life. 

This is a one-day event, either a Saturday or a Sunday, with a matinee game and a night game. We'll bring back four teams that were eliminated up to this point - the team from each division who won the most games will be invited (the tiebreaker is goal differential). The Eastern Conference teams will play early, the Western Conference teams will play late, and the winners will re-join the playoffs. 

Teams that have already advanced will have a long weekend to rest, and the fans will have another Hockey Event Weekend. The host city of the Wild Card round, like the All-Star Game and the Winter Classic, will rotate annually. 

Conference Semifinals (8 --> 4)
Conference Finals (4 --> 2)

I shouldn't really have to spell this out too much, because it's pretty straightforward. Everything after the Wild Card Weekend is played as the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 series format. High seeds play low seeds, and we narrow the field down to one representative from each conference. 

Stanley Cup Finals 

And then they battle it out, and someone gets to raise the best trophy in sports. 

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