There have been rumblings about a new CBA being close to being signed, oh yeah, where have heard this before. Anyway, one of the topics that have came up is an additional 4 teams being added to the playoff mix with a divisional format being the main component. We’ve seen this before where 6 teams beat up on each other for 5-6 games during the regular season, only to go after each other again in the playoffs for 2 rounds. Is this really exciting to hockey fans, seeing the same repitious match-ups, year after, year after year? To me, it was boring then & will continue to be boring moving forward.
For the most part, we’re pretty certain the game won’t take a big hit north of the border, given how few season ticket holders have walked away from their seats while waiting for a season to start so they can continue to fill up their hometown arenas. I’m not convinced the same can be said south of the border, outside the major revenue generating machines such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago & a few others. What about the sunbelt markets or the desert in Phoenix, or Columbus & Nashville? Truth is, we won’t really know the adverse affects of this lock-out will have on those fanbases & any suggestion would be sheer speculation.
So my suggestion to spice it up for this upcoming playoff season (assuming there is one) & to help bring back the fans for next year, a sweet 16 NHL playoff format. In what will be a minumum 48 game schedule, why not simply keep those 48 games within the conference but expand it during the playoffs in a 1 vs 16 format for the playoffs. The top 16 teams, point wise after 48 games make the playoffs & the rest go home, simple. No before you say ohh, that’s stupid let’s not forget the 2011 Stanley Cup final. You know, the one that had the big, bad Boston Bruins team that eventually prevailed over the President Cup champion Vancouver Canucks in a roller coaster 7 game series, with the Bruins winning the Cup on Canadian soil for the first time in any game 7 final, ever. Remember how much hype the NEXT meeting between these 2 teams created in the 2012 regular season? It was one of the most highly anticipated regular season match-ups of the year. Everyone who loved hockey, was watching that game, in Boston & was not disappointed with so many story lines going in to that game & coming out of it. Now ask yourself this, had those 2 teams not met in the Cup final the year previous, would that game garnered any serious attention, my answer is not very likely.
It’s been highly publicized by anyone with a hockey pulse that the playoffs are where rivalries are formed which builds the excitement for those same match-ups going into the next year & many years ahead. See Chicago vs Vancouver or Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia as a couple of prime examples that come to mind. It should also be noted that by changing to a sweet 16 format also gives the teams ranked 4 & 5 in their conference, who in many cases are both legit Cup contenders with sometimes 100pts each between them a chance to avoid each other until possibly the later rounds. Imagine, hypothetically if you will the following playoff match-ups (using the 2011-12 season standings) in a sweet 16 format:
1) Canucks vs 16) Senators
2) Rangers vs 15) Capitals
3) Blues vs 14) Panthers
4) Penguins vs 13) Kings
5) Predators vs 12) Sharks
6) Flyers vs 11) Coyotes
7) Bruins vs 10) Blackhawks
8) Red Wings vs 9) Devils
There’s quite a few intriguing match-ups there with all but 2 we have never seen before & an 8 vs 9 match-up that ironically took place during the last 48 games season due to a lockout in 1995. It’s time the NHL go outside the box a bit & maybe during a short season would be a good time to do it. There’s potentially 6 playoff series above that could help create rivalries moving forward & help make a Flyers vs Coyotes or Blues vs Panthers regular season game a little more exciting, but more importantly, meaningful.
Note: The NHL did have this format once, back in 1981. The 1st place powerhouse Canadiens took on a young & rising team in the 16th place Oilers squad. In what was then a best of 5, the Oilers swept the Canadiens on the back of Andy Moog’s sensational play. The format was then scratched after that season