With all the focus on the addictive qualities of “hockey related revenue” in the last several months, expansion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs seems inevitable – no matter if the current 16-team format produces, hands down, the greatest professional sports championship tournament annually.
Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported late Tuesday night that both the players and owners have talked about opening up the playoffs to additional teams, although the sides haven’t negotiated about it:
“Although it hasn't been brought up in negotiations, both NHL [and] NHLPA have had internal discussions on 4 more teams qualifying for playoffs.”
One assumes this would tie into the eventual radical realignment of the NHL into four “conferences” (you know, what we used to call the Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe). That playoff format is a return to divisional play, with the top four teams from each “conference” qualifying, playing each other for two rounds and then the survivors advancing to a reseeded final four for the Cup. Two conferences would have eight teams; the other two conferences will have seven.
The addition of four teams would appear to open up the divisional format to “play-in series” a la Major League Baseball; so you’d get the four seed playing the five seed, which is something Elliotte Friedman suggested way back in Dec. 2011. The winner of that series would then play the No. 1 seed in each “conference,” and the full 16-team dance begins after that play-in series is finished.
Would it be a single play-in game? Would it be a three-game series?
Would you care?
Probably. It’s playoff hockey, which means it’s going to be the NHL at its most intense and meaningful. The fans in the eight cities involved in a play-in round would care. Is it too much of a good thing?
Television would care. Advertisers would care.
They’re going to mess with perfection, which is inevitable when there’s that much money on the table. But as curmudgeonly as I am about changing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the MLB playoff expansion was tremendously successful and made the postseason more exciting. So I’d be as open-minded as a completely close-minded individual (at least on this issue) can be.
Here’s the deal, NHL: You can expand the playoffs as you see fit, as long as you continue to keep the shootout restricted to the regular season. Marathon playoff OTs > skills competitions. All day, all night.