The National Hockey League has been attempting to re-brand itself and acquire a larger American audience ever since the lockout that saw the cancellation of the 2004-2005 NHL season. When the league became active the next season, fans saw a number of changes that were meant to increase scoring and excitement in a league that was criticized for lacking in those departments in the years prior to the lockout. No longer was the “two-line offside pass” rule enforced, there was a limited trapezoidal area behind each net that was the only location behind the goal that a goaltender could roam with the puck, and the fan favorite overtime shootout became a staple of the league
Still looking for excitement, the league has never been one to shun a suggestion, and this season’s All-Star Game was a perfect example of this. The teams were split with captains–Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom–picking their own teams in a Fantasy-draft style. The NHL deemed this a success and we can count on seeing this next year, although probably tweaked.
The playoff system is one of my least favorite things about the NHL. The two conferences are seeded just like basketball, 1-8, with the top three seeds going to the division leaders. But instead of a simple bracket format throughout the conference playoffs, the teams are re-seeded after the first round to guarantee the greatest advantage to the top-seeded team, and make the road to the finals as challenging as possible for the lowest-seeded team. So if the eighth-seeded team won an upset in the first round, they would go on to play the best remaining team in the second round.
Now, however, the NHL may be considering a static bracket format like basketball or the NCAA where the teams will play the winner of another series no matter what. I like this idea, and I don’t know why it hasn’t been initiated since the lockout.
But as I said, the NHL is not going to ignore an idea–no matter how outlandish it may seem at first–and it is considering a 1-16 bracket that will include match-ups determined by conference standings. The top eight teams from each conference would advance to the playoffs, but they would be matched up with a corresponding team–determined by regular season points–that will not necessarily be from their own conference. It would be possible, then, for teams from the same conference to play each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.
As much as I don’t like this idea (travel would be strenuous and costly, bad match-ups between teams with no history would be costly in terms of fan excitement in the opening rounds), it might be a win for the NHL, who after all is looking out for its best interests.
No offense to my friends who root for the Marlins, but you can bet your house that the front office of Major League Baseball enjoyed the viewership and earnings from the epic seven-game ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox more than they did the world series.
Likewise, the NHL commissioner and owners might enjoy a Capitals-Penguins Stanley Cup or a Red Wings-Canucks matchup. The integrity of the NHL may be at stake, but in the meantime, several of the league’s franchises are threatened by financial struggles, and this might be just one way to increase viewership at a time that the NHL is desperately trying to stay relevant.
In the meantime, enjoy the Stanley Cup playoffs as they are. The Capitals and Red Wings, both down 0-2, are fighting for their lives, while the Predators are attempting to stun the top-seeded Canucks in a series that’s tied 1-1. The Bruins, up 1-0 in their series against the Flyers, host Philadelphia tonight.