NHL Playoffs 2012: With so Many Series Upsets, Is It Time to Change the Format?
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A team scraps, claws and fights its way into playoff contention, and instead of resting its best players for the postseason, it turns up the intensity and finishes with the best overall record in its conference.
For this effort it is rewarded, and is given home ice throughout the playoffs, but what does that really amount to?
If the team is the President's Trophy winner, it amounts to no more than four additional home games, maximum, out of the possible twenty-eight grueling contests that follow in the NHL postseason. That's right, four games—potentially, four series-deciding games—in their own venue during the two-month elimination tournament that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Is that enough?
Consider just what has happened in this current postseason alone.
Of the eight opening round matchups, four of the underdogs advanced to round two, vanquishing their higher-seeded foes.
Included in the casualties were the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. That's right, the team that never let up, corralled the best record in hockey and assured itself of home ice throughout the playoffs has already been eliminated by the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.
The opening round also saw the New Jersey Devils eliminate the higher-seed Florida Panthers, and the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers get past the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, meaning one half of the higher seeds have already been sent home for the summer. So much for that home-ice advantage.
But is one additional game in a seven game series really enough?
There is a way that the NHL can still maintain the excitement of a seven-game series, place the lower-seeded team at a disadvantage, and reward the higher-ranked team for its regular season efforts: in a seven-game series, give the higher-seeded team five home games, and the lower seed only two.
Imagine this: the President's Cup-winning Vancouver Canucks open at home against the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. Assuming they split the first two games, the series moves to Los Angeles, where the two teams again split.
However, now the Canucks return home for the remaining games of the series, where they reap the benefit of their regular season efforts. In this way, the organization draws additional revenue from another added gate, and the fans are treated with an additional opportunity to attend a home playoff game. By comparison, the lower-ranked team only loses the revenue of one home game in the series.
In other words, a seven game series in a 2-2-3 format.
This would still give the lower-ranked team two home games, thereby allowing its fans to enjoy the experience of attending home playoff games, but would grant a more decided advantage to the team that actually earned the higher seed.
Not only would the change reward the higher-seeded team, its supporters and its front office, it would benefit NHL fans overall. After all, as teams play the regular season games—especially those later in the schedule—their play would conceivably be elevated by the potential benefits of the new format.
Having a higher number of meaningful games translates to more stars playing more games at a more intense level.
An improved ice product is something that benefits every fan of the NHL, and the league itself may realize a benefit that it so desperately desires: increased popularity and a greater share of the viewership's financial market.
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