Friday, April 15, 2005

Expand the Playoffs

One story I missed out in commenting on when I was away was the trial balloon the NHL is floating about expanding the NHL playoffs from 16 to 20 teams. In case you missed it here is where Bob MacKenzie floats this story (McKenzie is still doing his NHL public relations work in exchange for "inside stories" like this one).

My first thought is that this is a blatant cash grab. More teams in the playoffs mean more playoff revenue and they mean more teams stay in the playoff picture longer generating more revenue in the regular season stretch drive.

I am not too opposed to the idea if it is a short play-in round (much like the first game in the NCAA Basketball tournament), but I don't trust the NHL to keep the series short - even if it is at the beginning it won't be long before they become 7 game series.

The biggest concern is that if the NHL wishes to be considered one of the big four sports leagues in North America, they have to start acting like one. In the NFL, 12 out of 32 teams make the playoffs (37.5%). In Major League Baseball its 8 of 30 (26.7%). In the NBA, its 16 of 30 (53.3%). Currently, hockey has the same ratio as the NBA when the NHL plays a season. Twenty out of thirty teams would be 66.7%. The NHL playoffs are already tied to be the easiest playoff to make. This change would break that tie. It doesn't make a playoff berth as important an accomplishment.

Of course, many of the NHL's current problems have come from trying to imitate the other big pro sports leagues. They put franchises in weak markets with questionable ownership in an attempt to go national in the United States. So not following the other leagues might be a welcome change. Nevertheless, making it special to make the playoffs is an important thing.

A better situation is that the NHL loses a few teams teams and increases the playoff making ratio that way, instead of propping up failing markets and expanding the playoffs to help their chances at playoff berths.

All that said, I am a hockey addict. In my perfect dream world, we would have twelve months of playoff calibre hockey every year. I would watch and I would love it. I know that is an impossible scenario, players would probably literally drop dead with that kind of a schedule. So, I could live with more hockey. I would watch more hockey. However, for the general good of the game, probably less is more. Less games would make players more rested and more intense and less teams in the playoffs would make the playoffs more special and increase the value of a good regular season.

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