Here's another tasty rumor to dissect while the NHL and NHLPA inch closer to a new CBA. Previously we discussed the potential conference swap between Columbus and Winnipeg in the event of a shortened season.
Now a rumor has surfaced - multiple times - that both the NHL and NHLPA have discussed internally the idea of expanding the NHL postseason. Most recently Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.ca Tweeted that both sides have talked about the idea of adding four additional playoff teams.
Let's make it clear that this is a rumor. Perhaps that should be Rumor with a capital R.
Aside from various reports on Twitter, nothing concrete on this front has surfaced. It should also be underlined that in the current rumor the two sides have only talked about the idea of expansion internally. As far as we know, the NHL and NHLPA have never discussed adding additional playoff teams together in the same room.
The rumor also lacks one vital piece of information - Would the playoff expansion of four additional teams take place just in a shortened season or would it become the new normal format moving forward?
The current NHL playoff system features 16 teams, eight from each conference. Using some basic math, you'll find that 53.3% of NHL teams make the playoffs. This point is already ridiculed around the world of sports because more teams make the cut than teams that don't. It's ridiculous and it's part of the reason why the NHL postseason is referred to by many as the "second season" as only a handful of teams are sent home after 82 games, requiring a "second season" of hockey to weed out the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
Now consider adding four more teams to that, raising the total from 16 to 20. In other words, only 10 teams would be on the outside looking in. Under this hypothetical expansion, 66.6% of the teams in the NHL would be competing in the playoffs. Insanity.
If the NHL is toying with the idea of making Columbus and Winnipeg trade conferences in the event of a shortened season, perhaps the idea of playoff expansion only refers to a shortened season. They might base the expansion on the idea that a shortened season could feature too much luck or variance, causing playoff worthy teams to miss out. The NHL could also stand behind the thought that allowing more teams into the postseason, and thus a chance to hoist the Cup, would be a way to welcome back fans and give fans of clubs in dire straits - Toronto - more optimism. Are any of these cases or claims worthy of altering the system? Hardly.
Let's not forget the NHL's and NHLPA's favorite topic - Money. It always comes down to money, doesn't it? Four additional playoff teams would mean additional revenue for the league. It'd be a nice financial boost for those that have lost money during the lockout. Adding playoff teams would be an obvious money grab.
My personal opinion is that the idea of the NHL expanding their playoff system is incredibly idiotic. Even in the event of a shortened season, the NHL's current format is more than adequate. Currently, a team making the playoffs is an accomplishment, albeit a minor one compared to making the playoffs in other sports. Adding four more teams would only make the NHL's system look that much more foolish.
Playoff races are exciting because there are so many teams in the hunt for just a handful of spots. The flurry of the last few days of the season is one of the best things the NHL has going for it. Leave it to them to try and ruin it (reportedly) by making it easier to reach the playoffs and removing some of the intensity and prestige of making the final eight ...or in this case, 10.
The NHL - and NHLPA - have much more pressing issues that they should tinker with (NHL discipline, icing, realignment) before even discussing the idea of adjusting the playoffs. Let's hope this rumor stays firmly planted in the world of fantasy, not reality.
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There would be two purposes for this, somewhat inter-related. The first, of course, is money. More TV money, more money to more teams for playoff appearances, that sort of thing. The second, very much tied up in the first, would be maintaining the interest of another four cities through the end of the season.
I'm at once for and against something along these lines, and for pretty much exactly the same reasons I'm both for and against the "second" wild card slot that baseball added. On the positive side, it would create a "bye round" scenario for the top teams, while the lower seeds had to play through additional games, making it more difficult for the latter to reach the prize, and theoretically increasing the chances of the former. (Of course, sometimes a team just gets hot and steamrollers everybody, regardless - see also: Kings, Cardinals, for examples from the past couple of years.) Meanwhile, on the negative side, you already hit the nail on the head perfectly: This would mean that two-thirds of all NHL teams would make the playoffs. What's the regular season for, then? Well, aside from making money (theoretically, in the case of about half the league...).
Overall, I'd have to say I come down on the side of being against it, but if it does go through, it's not like I won't understand why, and it won't particularly dilute things all that much further. Until and unless some undeserving team gets in because their whole conference was bad and gets roundly slaughtered, anyway. Then we can see some outcry against it.