There are a few things wrong with the way the NHL structures its playoffs. They are too long, they lose the fans' interest as they progress, and not every team has an opportunity to face each other in the Finals.
A couple of minor adjustments could fix all of these problems very easily.
First, in terms of excitement, the NHL’s most exciting round of the playoffs is the first round. That's when most people watch. The run to the playoffs and the first round is a major highlight in the season, but after that the playoffs lose their flair substantially.
Many fans would love to get right to the finals after the first round without having to wait another month and a half to decide a champion.
The NHL playoffs are simply too long and need to be refined. Compared to the Super Bowl, there is basically no hype surrounding the Stanley Cup Finals.
That in large part has to do with the fact that the Super Bowl is a one-game, winner-take-all championship. Adopting such a technique in the NHL would bring more attention to the big game.
The format that would work best would be a 7-5-3-1 format, where the first round is a best of seven. The second round is a best of five. The third round is a best of three and the Stanley Cup Final is a one game showdown between the league’s elite.
This way, a team only needs to win 10 games to be declared champion instead of 16. It adds excitement as the playoffs progress since there is more emphasis put on each round to perform.
To be honest, by the time a team has won a seven-game playoff round and then another five-game round, there is no debate on whether they deserve to be in the final four. They have earned their spot. Plus, through the first two rounds, only one win is being eliminated, so not much change there.
By the time the third round comes along, the two teams on each side should only need three games to decide whose best and earn a ticket to the big show. Let’s face it, they have proved they belong; now it’s time to raise the stakes and perform immediately.
As for the third problem of each team not being able to face each other in the finals due to conference restrictions, a simple tweak is all that is necessary to change that. A crossover in the third round.
Once the playoffs reach the point of getting down to the final four, the two top teams in each conference would switch over and play the two bottom remaining teams in the opposite conference. This way it gives any two teams the ability to face each other in the finals in any given year.
An added bonus that this format allows is the guarantee that the two conferences will have teams playing against each other in at least two playoff series and possibly a third, rather that just once every year in the finals.
It brings the league closer together and unites the two conferences further which are important to a league attempting to achieve parity.