You know which of the major sports has the best traditions and rituals? Were you gonna say baseball because it’s been around the longest? If you were, you’d be wrong. It’s hockey. In fact, it’s not even a contest. From the hats on the ice to the playoff beards to the practice of letting each player on the Stanley Cup winner take possession of the trophy for a while, the NHL’s got it all over the rest.
That’s why it’s gonna seem like pure heresy when I propose a renovation to the NHL’s playoff system. But I think my proposal will make it better. No, I’m not going to be one of those “too many teams” spoil sports. The NHL can keep all 16 playoff teams in my new method.
Basically, I think the league should do away with the first-round series and instead create four groups to compete in round-robin fashion. Each group would have four teams, seeded one through four. The teams in the group would play each other twice, but the better seeds would have home-ice advantage like this:
No. 1 vs. No. 4; No. 1 vs. No. 3; No. 2 vs. No. 4: Both games at higher seed
No. 1 vs. No. 2; No. 2 vs. No. 3; No. 3 vs. No. 4: Home and home
This way, the No. 1 seed gets five home games, the No. 2 seed gets four, the No. 3 seed gets two and the No. 4 seed gets one. Every team is guaranteed six games. When that round is over, the NHL can go three ways.
Take the top two teams from each group and pair them up in traditional, seven-game series the rest of the way, starting with what is now the second round and going on from there.
Take only the winners of each group and have them meet in two semifinal series and then have the Stanley Cup finals. This would eliminate an entire round of the current tournament.
Form two more groups of four from the survivors and play another round of six games each, then either have the winners of the groups meet for the final or the top two from each group meet in the semis.
Me? I’d probably favor the first option because it’s the least radical. My goal here is to eliminate the first round and give the best teams a more serious home-ice advantage. First-round games kind of get lost in the haze of memory because they’re all against the same team. Playing three different opponents, though, with each game meaning something? That’s hockey gold right there.