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Insider

How to improve the Stanley Cup Playoffs

4/19/2013

In the midst of the NHL lockout, there was debate as to what the NHL needed to do to win its fans back. Well, it's clear that just showing up is more than enough for hockey fans to return strong. But with the league's announcement of an expanded outdoor schedule, it's clear the NHL is looking for new ways to grow the game and grow revenue.

Which brings us to the playoffs. The realignment announcement in March clued us in to the league's plan on how to handle the postseason under the new system. But there's always room for improvement, right?

So this week's mailbag is centered around what you would do to improve the best time of year in the NHL. The postseason.

I would improve the playoffs by including more on-ice sounds, including player conversation on the ice. Second idea: The NHL GameCenter folks should not be subject to the censorship of cable TV.

Daniel, Boston, Mass.

Love this idea Daniel. Here's a show I would watch, similar to what they do in the NFL. You mic up all the players or certain players in the playoffs, then a few days later you produce a show featuring the most interesting on-ice conversations and sounds from each of the games, editing out the stuff that's not appropriate for public consumption. You'd get incredible sound. Who wouldn't watch this? And I feel your pain with GameCenter. Nothing worse than going to watch a game and being told it's not available in your area.

Craig,
I'd like to see a full-league single elimination tournament where the winner gets 10 points [in the standings]. The previous Stanley Cup teams would have first-round byes. This would give five rounds, therefore if you won all five games, that would be worth 10 points and all the other teams get zero. I think this would be an exciting way for a team to either make the playoffs if they won, or jump a few seeds in the playoffs. They would have to reduce the regular season by a few games but I think the interest in a mid-season tournament style game would make up for that.

Kevin S, Detroit, Mich.

Wow. This is brilliant. I have so many questions about the Kevin S. Tournament. When would this be played? Is it all conducted in the same city? What's this thing called? Can it be played outdoors? Shouldn't you give the runner-up any points in the standings? I'm telling you, this would be absolutely awesome, maybe something that could replace the All-Star Game. It would almost be like the NHL's version of a college basketball conference tournament. It wouldn't necessarily guarantee a playoff spot, but if you add 10 points to a team like the Oilers or Flyers (both capable winners) they're right on the bubble. This needs to happen.

Hey Craig, my suggestion: The NHL absolutely needs some form of accountability for players that attempt to leave the ice following an icing call. There is no penalty for trying to sneak off, which typically leads to the linesman having to pull them off the bench and they are essentially buying time for their teammates to rest. Players know if they were on the ice for the icing, if they leave the ice it should be two minutes for delay of game.

Jeff, Fair Lawn, NJ

This one falls under "if you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'" for me. But you're on the record, Jeff.

Not sure if this would make the playoffs better, but maybe help out the higher seeds. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds play the first day and then No. 3 and No. 4. Keep this rotation for the higher seeds so that they have the opportunity to rest more days if they finish early for the next round. And if they happen to finish later than the other seeds, give the higher seed the option to play the first or second set of games.

Keith, New Market, Md.

Interesting. This might work in theory, but it gets complicated when you're factoring in building availability, travel schedules and the most important factor in playoff schedules -- television. And I'm not entirely sure if the top seeds would want that extra time off between each series. Often, we see teams sweep a round or win in five games, then sit and wait for four or five days. I think that's really hard to recover from and those teams don't always play well in that first game back against a team that is in full playoff mode. Extended time off isn't always a good thing in the playoffs.

Next year with the four-conference format, after the intra-divisional first round, they should re-seed one to eight of the remaining teams -- meaning anyone can play anyone in the second, third and Cup Finals. Toronto vs. Montreal. Rangers vs. Devils. Kings vs. Sharks -- for the Cup! At least reseed 1 to 4 after the second round so the only teams you could never meet in the finals would be those in your own little conference.

Denes, Toronto, Ont.

I honestly thought we might see a version of this when the original re-alignment was passed in 2011. I kind of like having an Eastern-based team play a Western-based team for the Stanley Cup, but could definitely get behind some of the Cup finals you suggested. The other thing your plan would do would wipe out the travel advantage the Eastern Conference teams enjoy during the playoffs. If you re-seed and the Rangers potentially play the Canucks in the second round, it might force some of those Eastern Conference teams to actually get on a plane before the finals.

I would improve the playoffs by having the same officiating standards for the playoffs as the regular season instead of the "put the whistles away" approach.

Sean, Victoria

That's fair. The apparent different standard definitely favors the bigger, stronger teams rather than some of the smaller skilled teams that might have had success during the regular season. I love the physical aspect of the playoffs and wouldn't want to mess with the on-ice game too much but it does marginalize skill players who are often a big part of a team's success during the regular season.

I remember when the opening round of the playoffs was a best of five. Every game seemed so much more intense, home-ice advantage really matter, not to mention that as big a fan as I am, the playoffs just go on for too long! But I guess economically speaking we will never return to that format.

Andy Kemp, Montreal

Yeah, money talks on this one, Andy. To me, other than the Stanley Cup finals, the first-round is the best round in the playoffs. There are so many fans invested and so many games to follow. For that reason, I like it in its current form. But I agree, five games definitely ups the intensity right off the hop.

The top seed from each conference should be allowed to choose their opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Daigo, New Jersey

This is another idea I'm absolutely on board with. Matchups are such a huge part of playoff success, so a team that finishes first should be rewarded with a matchup they believe is favorable. Plus, imagine the motivation of the team that gets picked? I would expand it right down the standings. The top seed gets first pick, the No. 2 seed picks second, until the playoffs are decided. It would be an unbelievable television event, with the GM or coach of the selecting team making the announcement and then having to answer a couple pointed questions from John Buccigross (hey, it's my mailbag, I get to decide who televises this thing) on why they picked the opponent they picked. This is another idea that needs to happen.

And finally, we'll give Tony Mannix, from Chicago the final word on this issue:

"I wouldn't change a thing about the playoffs. They are perfect the way they are and the best in all of sports."