‘Pick Your Opponent’ Playoff Format an NHL Possibility?

The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), who brought 3-on-3 overtime 10 years prior to the NHL’s adoption of 3-on-3, has done it again, folks.

National Post

 The Southern Professional Hockey League will use a “pick your opponent” playoff format, with the first-place team choosing its first-round opponent from the teams that finished from fifth to eighth place, then the second- and third-place teams makes their choices before the final two teams get matched up. In the second round, teams will be matched by regular-season points.

Innovation. I love this idea. In a system that can see the 2nd and 3rd teams in a Conference matching up in the first round of the playoffs, which looks likely to happen in the East this year, for the second time in 2 years, this could be a welcome change in the NHL Playoff format.

SPHL President Jim Combs said he decided to bring this format to his 10-team league after a conversation with an executive from Austria’s Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, which already uses it.

“I immediately knew this was the greatest idea I’d ever heard,” Combs said. “The person at the top earns the right to pick the weakest of the bottom four. He can base it on travel, he can base it on difficulty of opponent, how the guy has been playing the past three or four weeks. A lot of times, you don’t want the eighth-place team because that’s the guy who has hustled and played hard and put the team together the last two or three weeks of the season. That’s the hot team.”

The logic checks out. Changing the Stanley Cup Playoff format is not new territory for the NHL. After realignment in 2013-2014, the league changed the format to a four-division, two-conference system. Under this system, the top three teams in each division make the playoffs, with two wild-cards in each conference (for a total of eight playoff teams from each conference). In the First Round, the top-ranked team in the conference plays against the lowest-ranked wild-card, while the other division winner plays against the higher ranked wild-card. The second and third place teams in each division then play each other. When the top 3 teams from a Conference are in the same Division (Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, in the East) you end up with the 2nd and 3rd “best” teams in a Conference playing in the first round.

Now I understand that seeing Toronto v. Boston in the Playoffs is a major attraction, two teams with massive, rabid fanbases. It’s “good for hockey”. But this playoff format could change the entire landscape of the NHL. This is the closest thing to a Vince McMahon “XHL” that we could get. Televise the selection day, have head coaches and Captains walk down the ramp and cut a god damn WWE promo calling out an opposing team. Not to mention this would be a “bulletin board material” coach’s wet dream. Ramp up the drama of the playoffs. Think of the storylines. Imagine that Rat Brad Marchand doing the McMahon Strut down the ramp and calling out Auston Matthews. It would be absolutely ELECTRIC.

Sleep on it Gary. Just think about it.



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