Expanding The NHL Playoffs


There’s been talk recently of expanding the NHL playoffs. One suggestion is to add four teams to the playoff bracket. More teams means more rounds or at least more games. The Eastern Conference is reportedly on board with the move. Some in the West feel the same way. The commissioner? It may take some time for him to come around.

The basic idea in this new vision is that 10 teams from each conference make the playoffs. The top six teams in each conference are safe. But the bottom four teams have to play a preliminary round to continue to the division series. This preliminary round is just one game, known as a play-in game. So there are two play-in games in each conference. Two teams get eliminated and two move on to join the other six. Then there are the usual eight teams and the playoffs continue on as they always have.

Reasons To Expand  

The obvious reason to expand the playoffs to add more games in revenue. Teams make an extraordinary amount of money on playoff games. So adding games is something that many managers and owners can get behind.

The next reason has to do with how the league has changed over time. The NHL currently has 31 teams, 16 of which make the playoffs. Back in 1992, the NHL had only 21 teams. But with the addition of 10 teams, there has been no expansion of the postseason. In 1992 there were 16 teams admitted to the playoffs, just like there are now.

This issue is coming up now because in 2021, just three seasons away, Seattle is getting an expansion team. So the league is expanding again and yet the postseason remains the same.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense if we think about it logically. When there were 21 teams in the league, all but five made the playoffs. Now that there are 31 teams in the league, 15 teams don’t make it. And in three years, that number turns to 16.

The Fan Perspective  

From a fan perspective, of course we want the league to expand the playoffs. Who doesn’t want there to be a better chance that their team can make the playoffs? And most real fans watch the playoffs if their team is playing or not. So making the playoffs more exciting with two play-in games in each conference seems like an intriguing idea.

However, whatever the fans think doesn’t really matter. Unless owners around the league can convince the commissioner that the TV revenue from the play-in games is important enough to make them happen, the fans are not going to get what they want.

But we can always wait until commissioner Bettman retires or is pushed out. Perhaps a new commissioner might like the idea of expanding the playoffs. For now though, it looks like this idea is only that, an idea.

Opposition To The Expansion 

Is it possible that expanding the playoffs might render the regular season as meaningless? This is of course the argument of the naysayers. Nobody wants to see the regular season become a time when teams don’t try and just wait for the playoffs. But the plan put forward with the play-in games does not change all that much. It only prolongs the choosing of the division series matchups.

Adding play-in games doesn’t make what seed you are matter less. Teams still have to jockey for a desirable spot in a playoff brackets. No team wants to be in the position of having to play a play-in game. It’s a risky prospect to put your season on the line in just one game. So the quality of hockey is not going to suffer if the playoffs are expanded. But it’s anybody’s guess when that might be.


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