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When Should (and Could) the NHL Expand the Playoffs to More Teams?


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Now that we’ve got the 18th-ranked Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final, can we finally agree it’s time to expand the playoff field?


And make no mistake, the Habs, 18th overall in the NHL’s regular-season standings this season, are full value for their Cup Final berth. They deserve to be there by any measure. They are for real. They got their game together just in time.


It just shows, yet again, how close this league is.


I polled the league’s GMs three years ago on this very subject and it wasn’t even close: 20 of the 30 GMs I polled at the time favoured at least having the discussion of some sort of playoff expansion or at least a play-in.


Believe me when I say that sentiment has only grown stronger.


The idea again for me, and I know a number of GMs support this, is to go to 20 teams in some form of “play-in” to get to the traditional field of 16.


So you’re still protecting the sanctity of the “16” but introducing a 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 best-of-three in each conference, which can be played over four days.


The idea also means the excitement over the races late in the regular season stretches out to 22, 23, 24 teams overall, because the 11th- and potentially 12th-ranked teams in each conference have a shot likely until the very end.


NHL commissioner Gary Bettman steadfastly opposed playoff expansion.


“Makes no sense — dilutes and extends the length of the season,” Bettman told me via email in March 2018. “Reduces, if not eliminates, exciting regular-season races. Potentially punishes the seventh and eighth finishers. And finally, what we have has been terrific. Why fix it if it’s not broken!”


I checked again with the commissioner late on Thursday night after the Habs clinched a Cup Final berth.


“No change in view,” Bettman responded politely via email.



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I think I'd better get the rock salt for hell freezing over!! I actually agree with Bettman!!! I like it the way it is....I hope they leave it alone.


While we're at it...How about doing away with the dumb ass skills competition OT shootouts??? Save OT for the playoffs, and give each team a point for ties after 60 minutes.

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I have no issue with this concept. I actually like the idea of having teams fight for a wildcard spot. Right now the only thing "wild" about the wildcard is that you're not restricted to your division. It's otherwise just a plain old 4th seed. This provides some added tension and the chance for a borderline team to build some steam. It forces teams that know they're in playoff position to grind a little harder so as not to be stuck as a wildcard playing extra games. I'm all for there being fewer meaningless games at the end of the season for teams vying for playoff position.
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Radical concept: Start season with about 10-12 seeding games to sort the field quickly. Next play 20 games to determine the 20 teams moving forward. There has to be a way for the lower teams to make it back into this top-20 field but not sure how just yet (Goals scored? Lowest penalties? Lowest team goals against?) Following a Christmas/New Year’s break come back with the playoff rounds. Entire season should end in March-April.


Gimmicky? Yeah and reads like it. Of course overall ‘revenues’ will drive the bus but what I’m after is more sustained playoff-like intensity longer in the season. Can the bodies take it? That’s why season ends sooner. Do players have the will to play this way? Add $$$ to the pot.


It’s disruptive and maybe unrealistic but how else to elevate the sport other than a massive re-boot in how the season is played. The ‘New Hockey - faster, tougher, meaningful where every game, every shift matters.’


*goes back and grabs another beer*

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