'March Madness'-Style Change to NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Format Would Be Electric

David Gaston@@Dave_GastonContributor IIIAugust 19, 2011

Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins

Imagine a playoff where any team could face any other team in the Stanley Cup Final. Wouldn’t it be incredible to see the Penguins vs. the Capitals…or Montreal vs. Toronto…or Chicago vs. Detroit for the right to hoist the hallowed Cup?

With league realignment only a year away, a simple change to the playoff process could rocket the NHL and the Stanley Cup tournament to unprecedented popularity...

The idea is to re-format the playoffs to an NCAA-basketball type of bracket with the top spots going to the division winners and the rest going to the teams with the best records, in order, regardless of what division or conference they are from. (Actually, there may not be any conferences once realignment has been finalized. With such a change to the playoff format, the league could realign to five six-team divisions without any conferences at all.)

With a league-wide bracket structure for the post-season, any match-up would be possible.

Divisions would still be necessary for travel purposes, and the division winners would get the top seeds, in order of record, with the incentive being home-ice advantage with the higher seed.

The rest of the 16-team field would be seeded by the records of the best remaining teams, regardless of which division they play in.


One additional benefit to a true bracket playoff system is the certainty that—by eliminating the conference factor—every single season, the 16 best teams would actually be in the playoffs!

And oh, how people love brackets.

Imagine the office pools: even people who are not hockey fans would be drawing names and numbers from a hat. This would stoke unprecedented interest in the NHL. Popularity would be at a new high. Everyone would be watching!

It would also make anyone’s dream match-up a very real possibility.

Even die-hard traditionalist fans would have to smile at the thought. There would be no damage to the integrity of the game.

Imagine the excitement as the bracket fills toward the end of the season.

Imagine the prediction pools.

Imagine the thrills and the upsets and the frenzy...

Imagine Crosby vs. Ovechkin, winner take all...

Mr. Bettman?