NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league values the opinions from players when it comes to the current playoff format but changing it isn’t a simple solution.
Speaking to the reporters ahead of the NHL All-Star Game, Bettman said there are a whole host of issues that would have to be addressed if the league were to go back to the old playoff format that ranked teams one through eight in each conference
“The debate about 1-versus-8, it’s not just that, you have to look at changes to the wild card and start looking at the matchups in terms of how many times teams play each other,” Bettman explained. “If you’re having conference-based playoffs, it’s not as simple as saying, ‘I’d like one-versus-eight versus what we have.’ It involves a whole host of other issues that have to be addressed.”
From 1993 to 2013, the NHL had three divisions in each conference, with the three division winners grabbing the top three seeds. After that, it was just based on overall points, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 8 seed, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No, 5. The teams would also re-seed after the first round.
One of the players who made his opinion known was Sidney Crosby, who expressed how much he misses the league’s old playoff format.
“I like 1-to-8 just because I think the regular season is as difficult as it is, teams should be rewarded,” Crosby told reporters Friday. “That’s probably the best way to be rewarded, even though there isn’t a tonne of difference. I like that version a little bit better.”
The NHL’s current format has been under scrutiny over the past few years, particularly because it often causes top teams to face off in the first round.
For instance, this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, who are third and fifth respectively in the Eastern Conference, are looking like a good bet to face off in the first round with the Boston Bruins running away with the Atlantic Division.
Bettman stated that the best time to discuss changes to the league’s playoff structure should be voiced to the competition committee.
“The last time we polled the general managers on this, which was only two years ago, two-thirds of them favoured keeping the playoff system the way it is,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t revisit it. Talk about it again. But this is not some burning issue out there.”
Bettman did reiterate that the league values the players’ input provided in informal discussions at the league offices in New York.
In May 2022, Bettman said the league had no interest in expanding the playoff format to include more teams or games, unlike the NBA’s play-in tournament that was implemented in the 2020-21 season or MLB and NFL who added more wild-card teams.
“The reason this is as good as it is is because the regular season and playoffs are meaningful,” said Bettman. “Having half of our teams eligible I think is the right balance, I think it creates great competition throughout the regular season. It makes the games most meaningful and there’s nothing like our playoff tournament, the Stanley Cup is the hardest to win, and there’s nothing in any sport like our first round.”
Bettman also referenced a recent NHL player poll done by the Athletic where there was a strong desire to not expand the playoff format to include the 7-10 seeds in each conference.