Let’s Fix The Playoffs

It’s just about NHL playoff time, which means I’m annoyed. Not because my favourite team is missing out again (go Leafs go!), but because the format is needlessly complicated. Seriously, have a gander at this shit.

As has been the case since 1979-80, 16 teams will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The format now is a set bracket that is largely division-based with wild cards.
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season record and regardless of division. It is possible for one division in each conference to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends just three.
In the First Round, the division winner with the best record in each conference will be matched against the wild card with the lesser record; the wild card with the better record will play the other division winner.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will meet in the First Round within the bracket headed by their respective division winner. First-round winners within each bracket play one another in the Second Round to determine the four participants in the Conference Finals.
Home-ice advantage through the first two rounds goes to the team that placed higher in the regular-season standings. In the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final, home-ice advantage goes to the team that had the better regular-season record, regardless of the teams’ final standing in their respective divisions.

I have an uncle who swears this makes complete sense and is totally fair. In related news, I also have an uncle who is wrong.

Like what the hell is any of that? Conferences…divisions…wildcards…lesser records…one side with more people than the other…home ice advantage is determined by one record until it isn’t…get the fuck out of here with this, NHL! You’re killing me here.

There is no reason why determining a champion needs to be this difficult, so allow me to make it simpler.

First of all, decide whether you want divisions or conferences. You don’t need both. My vote is we jettison divisions, because they tend not to make any geographical sense and sometimes it’s hard for casual fans or even whatever the level slightly above casual is to remember who goes where. All you really need is an Eastern Conference, a Western Conference and a map to help you figure out which teams should go in each one.

Once you have that, play your season. At the end, the eight teams from each side with the most points get to go to the playoffs, because 16 is a fine number that works well for tournaments and we’re all used to it at this point. Each side goes 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 and so-forth. Once that’s done, the winner of 1 vs 8 plays the winner of 2 vs. 7 and on and on and on until you have a single team left on each side, at which point you have your East against West match-up for the cup.

Again, this is not that hard, and the only reason it is currently as hard as it is is either because nobody in the NHL knows what they’re doing or everyone who does is too frightened of the people who don’t to tell them to get bent.

Speaking of getting bent, just shut up with this playoff expansion business. I don’t care how many teams you eventually want to add to the league, 16 of them is already a lot to put into the playoffs. Getting to the playoffs is supposed to be hard, so at least maybe try to give me the illusion that it is, guys. If anything, less teams should make it. That’s why baseball’s playoff race is so much more fun for me. It feels like a much bigger achievement to have your team make it when half the damn league isn’t going with them.

But if you’re convinced that bumping up the number of playoff teams is unavoidable, then I have another suggestion. Get rid of the regular season. If most of the teams are going to the playoffs anyway, what do you need it for? Just put everyone in and be done with it.

Every January, put the names of every team in a tumbler and draw them Battlebowl style. There’s your first round. When that’s over, you can either make a bracket or you can put the winners back in the hat and draw again, your choice.

As I see it, there are several advantages to this.

  1. It would give people a reason to look forward to January. January is garbage. It’s cold, it’s dark, you’re in debt from Christmas, depending on where you live there’s not another holiday to look forward to until Easter…the annual big ass hockey tournament would be a nice escape.
  2. There would be no more whining about how unfair the system is. It’s a blind draw, so your have not teams have as good a chance as the haves of getting matched up favourably with someone.
  3. Playing careers would be longer without the wear and tear of playing seven months of pointless games every year.
  4. There would be no more discontent about putting the season on pause during Olympic years.

And I’m sure I’m missing a few more.

I know None of this is happening. The NHL is going to do whatever the hell it wants and we’re all just going to put up with it. That’s why we have shootouts, a concept that has no place whatsoever in hockey. If it did, why aren’t they used in the playoffs? Regular season ties are not the end of the world. If they are, make everyone keep playing until somebody wins. Yes, that’s a stupid idea, but so is determining the end of a 60 minute contest with a lame skills competition. And this playoff format. And adding even more people to it. And locking out the players every few years…god, why do I still watch this stuff? Why do you have to be so much fun, hockey.

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