It’s a rare moment in time when the people who run a billion-dollar professional league really don’t know much more than those who cover and follow it, but here we are.
About all we can say in terms of possible playoff formats should the NHL resume play this season is the same thing deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Good Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday morning: Essentially, anything is possible.
Asked if he could at least rule out a scenario where all 31 teams compete in some kind of mega post-season, Daly couldn’t commit. “I guess I’m not even willing to say that at this point.”
If commissioner Gary Bettman’s righthand man is racking his brain for every possible setup —Daly said he was mentally running different scenarios, including one that could see an under-the-gun structure with fewer than the usual 16 teams in the playoffs, during his morning shower — then we’d like to follow suit, highlighting a few ideas that fall at various points along the hair-brained spectrum.
The notion of a 24-team playoff is already out there, as are a number of other possibilities. Allow us, then, to jump in on the fun and present some unique paths to the most beautiful trophy in sports.
• Lets’ get this one out of the way. As fun as a March Madness-style, win-and-advance tournament would be, I don’t think you can do a 16-team, single-elimination format that would require four wins in total for a team to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe you could do best two-of-three at every stage or make the final a real series, but even that doesn’t feel quite right.
• Rank the teams by points percentage, the top seven in each conference get in, leaving one spot open on each side of the draw. Now have your single-elimination bracket, as the next eight teams — seeds eight through 15 — compete for that final playoff spot in both the East and West. Naturally, you rank the competing teams one through eight in each conference. Sorry, Detroit, you’re the only one sitting this out.
• There are all kinds of variations you could do with the above. It just depends how many spots you want to reserve and how many you want to leave up for grabs in a bracket-style competition.
• Take the top eight teams in each conference and rank them by points percentage. Now, have the first and final rounds be best-of-nine series. That allows teams more time to find their footing when they come back from a long layoff and gives us an elongated showcase series at the end. In the middle, you can whittle down to best-of-three or five to save some time. Can’t you just see the headline: “Game 9: It’s all on the line!” (If you’re wondering, Major League Baseball has used best-of-nine series before, including the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” Series won by the Cincinnati Reds.)
• Speaking of hardball, if there’s a real time crunch to get this thing in, why not follow MLB’s October formula? Since there are only two divisions in each NHL conference as opposed to the three in both the American and National Leagues, you would once again rank the squads by points percentage in the East and West. Seeds four and five have a one-game play in to leave four clubs on either side of the ledger. Now, if time allows, you do best-of-seven series the rest of the way with an option to do a best-of-five first round if required. It takes three series wins to make the Cup final under normal circumstances and teams usually hang a banner to mark that achievement. Handing out rings for three series wins would be legit.
• Okay, I know I said you couldn’t do single-game elimination all the way through, but forget that and the best-of-nine chat: What if we made just the final a winner-take-all affair? Could. You. Imagine! Nothing trumps the vibe of a for-all-the-marbles match, so if we’re trying to squeeze this thing in, why not have three rounds of best-of-five or seven, give everyone a few days off to rest — we, the media, will take care of the hype — and then have them meet in a Super Bowl-style event. We could even do it in a neutral site, assuming travel restrictions have loosened and fans of both teams can make the trip. It would be a great note to go out on after all this craziness.