How To Make the NHL Playoffs Better for Everybody

Dan NoonCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2009

There are many things about the NHL today that bug me.

The aspect of the game that bugs me the most is the way the playoff system is set up. Everything from the amount of teams that make it, to the way the teams are ranked, even the way each series is set up for home ice advantage. Each series I believe has too many breaks between games and take too long to complete. All of these reasons are why the NHL playoff format bugs me.

The main reason is how a team with fewer points than another can be ranked higher only because they won an inferior division. The amount of teams that qualify is more than half the teams in the league, and I think that is a joke. Home-ice advantage is too easy to overcome in a series. That is why I think the breakdown of games in the series should be different.

The playoffs, I believe, carry on too long, and this is because there are too many breaks between games. Teams hardly ever play games on consecutive nights in the playoffs, and I see no reason for this.

I have never understood how a team with 85 points at the end of the season can finish third, while a different team with more points finishes behind just because the third-place team won their division. Historically, the team that finishes third has been from the Southeast Division. That team usually always has fewer points than a few teams beneath them but still gets rewarded with home ice because they were the best team in a bad division.

I also feel that when it comes time for the playoffs to start, the top teams should not be divided into conferences. This meaning, if the ninth- and 10th-ranked teams in the West have more points than the seventh- and eighth-ranked teams in the East, then the teams from the West should be in. Home ice should be given to the top teams in the league, not in each conference.

The playoffs are supposed to be a showcase of the best teams in the league after 82 games, and right now I don’t believe this to be the case. A team does not deserve to miss the playoffs because they are in a certain conference. Until this happens, the best teams in the NHL will not always be playing in the playoffs, and to me that’s not right.

Having 16 out of 30 teams in any league qualify for the playoffs makes no sense to me. The 16th-ranked team is in the lower half of the league standings and has no right playing for the Stanley Cup.

My solution to this problem is simple. The playoff system that is implemented today does work, but could be improved with just four simple changes that would save the league time, money, and headaches.

Don’t reward the division winners with the top three rankings from each conference. In fact, don’t even separate the league into conferences when it comes to the playoffs. I also think that the top 10 teams from the league only get to qualify, with the top two teams receiving first-round byes with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

This solution would not only make the playoff season shorter, but it would also most definitely single out the elite and therefore most deserving teams of a playoff spot. I also believe that this system would create more parity around the league and set up some classic playoff matchups that haven’t been seen in a long time. (Toronto vs. Detroit, Chicago vs. Boston, etc.)

Another big problem I have with the NHL playoff system is the way that home-ice advantage is structured. Right now, the way it is structured is 2-2-1-1-1 with the home team receiving the first two games. With this system, the “home ice” can be taken away within the first two games, putting all the pressure on the higher ranked team. I agree with the pressure aspect, but I feel it could be evened out a little and put some pressure on the lower ranked team as well.

I have found a solution to this, and I found it in the NBA. The league should use the 2-3-2 format with the home team getting the first two and last two games. This way, if the road team wins in the first five games of the series, the last two games are rightfully at the rink of the higher ranked team. This format works not only for building more suspense (just look at the Lakers vs. Celtics 2008 NBA Finals) but also for logistical reasons: There would be far less travel.

One other thing about the NHL playoffs that bugs me is the actual length of each individual series. It makes no sense to me why a series that ends in six games takes almost two weeks to complete. Why does a team play on back-to-back nights all the time during the regular season, but come playoff time, a team hardly ever plays on consecutive nights? This makes no sense to me at all.

Each series should only break on days needed to travel. Under my proposed solution, the 2-3-2 format would only require two travel days, making it possible to complete a seven-game series in nine days.

I understand it is a long season, and especially in the playoffs players need all the rest they can get. But these guys are professionals in tip-top shape and have, in my opinion, NO excuse for getting tired to the point that they need a day off. Not only would this approach to a series save time, it would also save lots of money on travel and hotel expenses.

Also, the Stanley Cup is already the hardest trophy in sports to win, so what’s the problem in making it a little more challenging? The series would be completed quicker, making it possible for the Stanley Cup to be awarded before we are all thinking about golfing and the beach.

In closing, if the NHL playoffs were a tournament of just 10 teams (instead of 16), with the top two teams rewarded first round byes, if the way teams were ranked was changed, and if they followed the NBA model of a playoff series, I think that the NHL playoffs would truly be the best, most exciting tournament in North America. Not to mention the toughest to win.

Long live hockey!