How To Make The NHL Playoffs More Compelling

No matter your lot in life, you always try to get better everyday.

That is a common goal of most in today’s society, try to be better today than you were yesterday.  Try to be better tomorrow than you were today.  Look for ways to improve yourself.

The same thing can be said of organizations.  Anything that you can do to market yourself better, you do it.  The NHL all told does a pretty good job of this.  But there are always ways that they can improve.

The NHL playoffs are widely known as among the best playoffs sports has to offer.  From the fast paced action, to the incredible drama, there is never a dull moment.  As great as the playoffs are, even they can be improved upon.

I got into a nice conversation with Ryan Wilson, who covers the Pittsburgh Penguins for Hockeybuzz.  I asked a question about the concept of upsets and if they even exist in today’s NHL anymore.  Given the parity in this league, and the very little separation between the 16 playoff teams, any outcome wouldn’t be surprising.

In response to my upset question, he brought up an idea that I’ve thought about before, and some people have talked about.  This idea would bring a whole new element of drama and suspense to the NHL playoffs.  His idea?  Let the top teams choose their 1st round opponent.

Choosing Opponents Has Happened

The concept of a team choosing who they play is not a new thing.  In fact, until this season, the NBA D-League used this format for their playoffs.  The format would work like this.

The top 3 teams in each division make the playoffs like they do now.  There would still be 2 wildcards from each conference.  Instead of seeding them in Round 1, the top division winner in each conference picks their opponent from the two 3 seeds and two wildcards.  Then the other division winner picks next.  Then the top 2 seed picks next.  Finally, the 2 remaining teams would play each other.

How This Improves The NHL Playoffs

This kind of format offers a variety of benefits that helps improve the playoffs.  First, it rewards the top teams.  It places a higher level of importance on finishing the regular season with as many points as possible.  They get a choice of which team they want to play.  Whether they choose based on matchup, or health, they get the final say in who they want to play.

Next, think of what the league can do with this.  Imagine a made for TV event in which the teams announce on national TV who they want to play.  This would be a nice way to draw additional ratings.

Finally, think of how those teams picked will react. “Oh.  You want to play us?  You’ll regret this decision.” If the games were intense before, imagine the games when one team was called out.

rangers nhl playoffs
In this format, the Rangers could choose the Pens, Sens, Isles, or Wings as their 1st round opponent in the NHL playoffs. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

This has a lot of potential.  It will motivate teams to finish 1st or 2nd in their division.  It will also add an element of drama that will bring more fans into hockey.  They’ll tune in and watch an NHL playoffs selection show.  If fans enjoyed the fantasy all-star draft in Columbus, imagine how fans will react to teams picking who they play.  It worked out well in basketball.  Why can’t it work in hockey?  Let’s hope the NHL sees the overall benefit of this change.