What’s wrong with the Playoff format?

With the NHL Playoffs coming up fast why is that some fans and players are so against the current Playoff format?

It’s a subject which has drawn ire not only for what it’s trying to do (generate views) but also its complication and how it appears to adversely affect the competition, sending strong teams home early (according to its critics).

So let’s delve into what’s been said about the NHL Playoffs shall we?

It’s working well

2J874DW Tampa, Florida, USA. 6th May, 2022. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks with the press during round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against theTampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, May 6, 2022 in Tampa. (Credit Image: © Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire)

According to the NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, there were no plans to change up the NHL’s divisional Playoff format and it was ‘working well’.

Bettman’s comments came following the NHL’s Annual General Meeting which did not deliver much in terms of headlines, but it did get fans and commentators spitting venom about the playoff format once more.

In the press conference, Bettman said that the current format was one that both the NHL and the team’s General Managers agreed on. While others would prefer a return to a 1v8 playoff format, there are no changes coming.

‘There isn’t much difference between either format. We think and we think is concurred with by the General Managers, what we’ve got works really well. 

‘I know that some people may have a preference for doing things differently, but this is working well and we’re not looking to make any changes.’

What’s the current format?

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal against Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with teammate right wing Mitchell Marner (16) during third period NHL first-round playoff series action in Toronto on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

So, we have 16 teams entering the NHL Playoffs Post-Season.

That’s broken down into the top three performing teams per Division (Central / Metropolitan / Pacific / Atlantic) and two Wildcard teams from each Conference (Western and Eastern).

That totals eight teams per conference.

There are four rounds in the Playoffs; the First, Second, Conference and Stanley Cup Finals.

Each round features a series of best-of-seven games. The team that reaches four wins in each round, makes it through to the next round. There is no re-seeding.

The team that can get four wins during the Stanley Cup Championship best of seven series, is the winner.

How is the best of seven broken down?

So the format looks like this 2 – 2 – 1 – 1 – 1. That means that one of the teams will have what’s known as the ‘Home Ice Advantage’. They’ll be hosting four of the seven games (One, Two, Five and Seven).

The other team hosts the remaining three (Three, Four and Six).

It’s not necessarily the case that the series will go all seven games. When one team hits four, it’s over.

How it looks?

Certainly the 16-team Playoff aims for impact from the FIRST ROUND, maximizing intra-divisional rivalries existent between the teams.

Although, for some fans and pundits, this desire to make the Playoff more watchable has another by-product of making the Playoff format messy and confusing (according to critics).

Those forced rivalries in the early stages can lead to huge fan favourites being knocked out early in the contest.

This new system was adopted ahead of the 2013/14 season but it has both fans and players calling for a return to what there was before.

What’s the old structure?

A good number of NHL fans, as well as players, would favour the NHL going back to the 1 – 8 format.

That format still has 16 teams but it was without the Wildcard system entirely and instead seeds teams per conference and division from 1 – 8.

Games would still be played highest vs lowest and there would be a reseeding of teams after each round.

Prior to the change, there was also the existence of the Northeast and Southeast divisions.

What Crosby said?

February 17, 2022, TORONTO, ON, CANADA: Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) looks down as he plays against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, February 17, 2022. (Credit Image: © Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via ZUMA Press)

Pittsburgh Penguins Forward Sidney Crosby is one of those players who favours the old system. Speaking back in February, he felt the old one rewarded teams that performed well in the Regular season.

‘I like 1-to-8 just because I think the regular season is as difficult as it is; teams should be rewarded.

‘That’s probably the best way to be rewarded, even though there isn’t a ton of difference. I like that version a little bit better.’

Bettman shut it down though saying that changing the Playoff format was easier said than done.

‘You’ve got to also look at changing the wild-card. You’ve got to start looking at the matchups in terms of how many times everybody’s playing everybody else if you’re having conference-based playoffs.

‘It involves a whole host of other issues that have to be addressed.’

Ice Hockey journalists were critical

Tampa Bay Lightning Beat writer Chris Krenn also commented saying that he thought the original was better and the current one would be sending too many teams out of the contest too early.

‘Don’t hate the current format, but 1 vs. 8 is still better IMO. There’s going to be a high level of intensity in every playoff series, regardless of if both teams are in the same division or not.

‘Too many really good teams going home too early.’

Arpon Basu could only comment on the NHL’s vision or lack of it according to Basu,

‘At this point you almost have to admire the tunnel vision.’

Posted on: 06 Apr 2023