Why An 18-Team NHL Playoff Format Would ROCK

With the NHL lockout still ongoing but coming to a very probable end soon, and both parties are now sensing the urgency of getting a deal done to avoid the cancellation of the whole 2012-13 season, the idea of expanding the current playoff system has surfaced. According to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos and several other sources, it is now being discussed internally by both the NHL and the NHLPA.

Dustin Brown lifting the Stanley Cup (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE)


Kypreos, who reports the new format would include 20 teams, up from the current format of 16 teams, also noted that the topic has not been included in formal negotiations as of this morning. However, should the new format be included in official CBA discussions, it would probably include an extra round of elimination between the No.4 and No.5 seeds of each of the four new proposed divisions of seven or eight teams. With this new conference format, the first two-rounds of the playoffs would be played inside each division, making for some intense rivalries.

While this new system would bring some advantages such as additional revenues for the teams who play that “extra” round, and more teams having a chance to win the Stanley Cup, the fact that twenty teams in a thirty-team league make the playoffs is quite laughable and makes the regular season less important.

Lets compare that number to the other professional leagues in North America:

In the NBA, similar to the NHL, 16 out of the 30 teams, or 53%, make the playoffs every year.

In the MLS, a 20-team league, 10 teams, or 50%, make the playoffs (5 in each conference).

In the NFL, only 12 of the 32 teams, or 37.5%, make the playoffs every year, with the four top seeds getting a bye-week.

As for MLB, the league adopted a new playoff format in 2012, adding an extra seed in each conference, putting the numbers of teams making it to the Fall dance to 10 out of the league’s 30 teams, or 33%.

By increasing the number of playoff teams to 20 out of 30 teams, or 66%, it would become much easier for fringe playoff teams to make it to the Spring dance, especially if both parties manage to finalize a new deal and we have a shortened season of around 50 games in 2013.

With this new format, if your favorite team is off to a good start, such as the Minnesota Wild and the Toronto Maple Leafs were last season, they would almost be guaranteed to qualify for the playoffs.

While this format would certainly make for an entertaining playoff race, the schedule would already be really tight and it would be very hard to squeeze in an extra round if we don’t want to hand out the Stanley Cup on July 1.


Similar to the new playoff format adopted last summer by MLB, which added an extra wild-card team in each conference, the NHL could also add an extra playoff seed to spice things up and increase gate and television revenues. While in baseball the two wild-card teams faced each other in a death-match the day following the end of the regular season, the NHL could adopt a 2-out-of-3 series with the No.9 seed hosting the first game and the No.8 seed hosting the last two games of the mini-series over a period of four days.

This new format would allow the first seven seeds to get some rest and heal their injuries, while giving a chance to the ninth-best team in each conference to win the Stanley Cup. The winner of this mini-series would then go on to face a well-rested No.1 seed in each conference. This would make for entertaining hockey, as the extra series would feature evenly matched teams desperately battling for the last playoff spot.

If and when the NHL decides to go the expansion route and add two more teams to the league, bring it to a total of 32 teams, the 18-team playoff format could eventually be changed to a 20-team format. With 32 teams split in four equal division of eight teams, it would be much easier to include an extra round of elimination between the No.4 and No.5 seeds, as the winner would go on to face the No.1 seed of the division.

Do you agree with the proposed 20-team playoff format or my speculative 18-team format? Or do you simply prefer the current format and prefer not to change it?

You can follow Fred Poulin on Twitter for more NHL news.