When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell floated the idea of playoff expansion in the NFL earlier this season, the wise guys had plenty of criticism.
"That's right," they sniped. "Turn the NFL into the NHL, where everyone makes the playoffs."
Then the backslaps and belly laughs went on for another 10 seconds.
The wise guys were wrong on at least one front. Everyone does not make the playoffs in the NHL.
While critics can say that 16 teams is too many for the postseason tournament, anyone who follows the NHL playoffs knows that it's a sensational competition that plays out as well as any championship run in sports.
It's not too many teams.
As a matter of fact, playoff expansion might be the right call in the NHL. It would not cheapen it or make it less exciting. Playoff expansion would actually reward the top teams in the league for regular-season excellence.
Here's how it would work if the playoffs expanded to 10 teams per conference:
Give the top six teams a bye in the first round.
The preliminary round of the playoffs would see the seventh through 10th seeds meet in a best-of-three format to see who advances to the conference quarterfinals.
(The NHL used a best-of-three format for its preliminary round in 1975. It used a best-of-five format in the preliminary round from 1979 through 1986.)
The seventh seed would meet the 10th seed, and all games would be played at the home of the team with the better regular-season record.
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The eighth seed would meet the ninth seed. The eighth-seeded team would play the first and third games (if necessary) at home while the ninth seed would get the home game in the second game of the series.
The playoffs would then proceed in the standard fashion a day after the preliminary round finishes.
This would get two more teams from each conference into the postseason without devaluing the playoffs. The seventh and eighth seeds would have more work to do if they were going to pull off a Los Angeles Kings-like run to the championship.
The top six seeds would get an extra few days off to prepare for the playoffs. The first and second seeds would play teams that have already been put through the ringer to survive the preliminary round.
The No. 10 team would make the playoffs, but it would not be rewarded with a home game in that round. If it is going to advance, it would have to do it all on the road.
If the 10th seed does advance, it would get home games in subsequent playoff rounds, but obviously, it would not have home-ice advantage in subsequent rounds. (Unless two 10th seeds met in the Stanley Cup Finals.)
This playoff expansion would create more excitement for middle- and lower-level teams at the end of the regular season, and it would also reward the better teams by giving them more rest and a chance to get healthy before the playoffs begin.