NHL Playoffs 2012: Postseason Rule Changes We'd Like to See
The NHL has had the same postseason format since 1994 and for the most part, it has worked pretty well. However, there are still some things that need to be changed to improve the NHL's playoff experience.
Some changes are needed in the way the league selects and seeds playoff teams, and some changes need to be made to the way the game is played.
These suggestions would take the best playoff system in sports and make it even better.
Don't Automatically Give Division Winners One of the Top 3 Seeds
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Unlike the NBA, the NHL automatically gives the three division winners in each conference one of the top three seeds in the playoffs. This holds true not just for the first round, but for as long as the division winners remain in the playoffs.
The result can create unfair advantages for teams that just don't deserve them.
Look at the Eastern Conference's third seed this year, the Florida Panthers. They finished with 94 points, which would place them seventh in the conference if the league used straight records to seed its teams.
But because the Panthers won the weak Southeast Division, they were automatically seeded third. Now, the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils have an easier first-round opponent than both the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia).
In addition, the Penguins and Flyers have to play each other in the first round. This means that one team that is considered a Stanley Cup contender is going to be eliminated in the first round because they have to face another highly regarded contending team. Again, the Devils, who finished behind both of these teams, get an easier first-round opponent in Florida.
Division winners should be rewarded and receive an automatic playoff berth, but they should not be seeded ahead of better teams just because they won their division.
NHL teams play 82 games to earn the most points they can to get the highest seed possible. It is more fair if division winners are automatically in the playoffs, but are seeded where they belong in the standings.
Give Coaches One Replay Challenge Per Game
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The NHL should allow coaches to make one replay challenge per team per game.
Sure, these challenges should be limited to certain clearly reviewable instances, like whether or not a player was offside on a play or whether a puck was deflected before going into the stands on a potential delay-of-game call.
We saw the Flyers benefit from a blown call in Game 1 of this year's playoffs against the Penguins. Daniel Briere was clearly offside on a play where he scored a goal that ended up changing the momentum of the game. If Penguins' Coach Dan Bylsma had one challenge, he could have had the play reviewed and it clearly would have been reversed.
By giving each coach only one review per game, it doesn't slow down the game much and adds an element of strategy for NHL coaches. It also allows the league to correct obviously blown calls like the Briere goal in Game 1 without eliminating judgment calls by the officials.
Do Not Change Playoff Overtime Rules
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During the regular season, overtime is 4-on-4 hockey for five minutes, followed by a shootout.
In the playoffs, however, the NHL keeps on playing 20 minute periods of 5-on-5 hockey until somebody scores the game winning goal.
Please, NHL, don't change this.
Marathon Stanley Cup playoff games are the stuff legends are made of. The fact that a game can end at any time or go on until the wee hours of the morning is part of what makes the NHL playoffs intense, exciting and unique.
The shootout and 4-on-4 hockey are gimmicks designed to produce quick winners in OT during the regular season. They are fine where they are, but they have no place in playoff hockey.
Keep playoff OT as is.
Make Teams Play Within Their Divisions in the Early Playoff Rounds
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Prior to 1993, the first two rounds of the playoffs were always between division foes to determine what team would emerge from each division to play for the conference title.
This helped create more intense rivalries between teams, which gets fans more passionately involved in the game.
Think about the 1980s when the divisional playoff rules were in place. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders met in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984. The rivalry between the two teams was never more intense.
Emphasizing rivalries is good for the NHL and helps sell tickets. It makes players and fans more intense and that is good for the game. Make the change.
Give Coaches an Extra Timeout in Long OT Games
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During the regular season, the NHL gives each team one timeout for a 60- or (at most) 65-minute game.
In the playoffs, however, games can last a lot longer. If games go to a second overtime period, teams should get one more timeout if they have already used their first one.
Fatigue becomes a major factor in long overtime games. This would again give coaches another strategic move they can make (and be second-guessed on) and give players a slight rest during a game lasting more than 80 minutes.