The modern NHL playoff format is something that has been criticized since it first took its current form in the 2013–14 season. While the divisional format was meant to create more excitement due to a higher likelihood of regional rivals facing off in the playoffs the result has left a lot of fans yearning for a return to the more simple 1–8 seeded conference based format that once shaped the league.
Prior to the change in format the NHL had an identical playoff format to that of the the NBA, and perhaps the NHL should once again take inspiration from their hoop-based counterpart to make the end of the regular season more exciting for teams in the middle of the pack.
What is the NBA Play-In Tournament?
During the 2020 Playoffs the NBA started their Play-In Tournament, similar to the extra play-in round that the NHL introduced that same season. This was originally done to make up for the games that were lost due to the pandemic shut down. But the NBA loved these games so much they decided to tweak it a bit and keep it.
Essentially how the tournament works is that the top six seeds at the end of the regular season in each conference are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and the seven, eight, nine and ten seeds have to battle it out for the last two spots in an almost sudden death tournament.
The NBA Play-In Tournament consists of six games, three in each conference.
Both seventh and eighth seeds play in the first game, and the winner of that game goes on to become the official seventh seed who will face the second seed in the first round of the playoffs.
Then the the ninth and tenth place teams face off in a sudden death game where the winner gets to fight for the final playoff spot with the loser of the first game.
So far the Play-In tournament has produced some fun results by essentially providing the teams involved with an extra high stakes playoff game.
In the two years the format has been used 3 of 8 teams have come into the tournament as the ninth seed, and that potential for upsets is what makes this most exciting.
How would a play-in tournament look in the NHL
Below is a visualization of what this format would look like if the NHL were to adopt it today:
Right off the bat this format seems like it could bring a lot of fun to the end of the NHL season. In the west this year the play-in tournament would essentially replace the heated wild-card race and give it even more excitement. Imagine how intense a game it would be between the Canucks and Golden Knights, as they play for one final chance to get into the playoffs.
In addition this season the Eastern Conference has been essentially decided for the past two months. So introducing a play in tournament would bring some uncertainty to that conference and keep things exciting as we head into the playoffs. Teams like Columbus and Detroit would be fighting it out for that final spot in the play-in tournament.
Plus for teams like Vancouver who bounced back after a coaching change mid-season or the Islanders who started off the season without a home but have since bounced back too it would give them a bit more of a chance to make the playoffs.
This format also brings back the old 1–8 format that many fans want brought back and would allow for more even playoff distribution unlike the current divisional format.
Should the NHL seriously consider this format for next season?
A play-in tournament essentially gives the league six more playoff games to make serious revenue in, and keeps the end of the season much more exciting for teams in the hunt for those last playoff spots. While there is some fair criticism of this format in terms of how it give teams low in the standings at the ninth and tenth seeds a chance to steal a playoff spot from teams who would have traditionally earned their spots. The extra drama the play-in could bring to the NHL is something very alluring.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Should the NHL consider adopting this format? Or do you think there is another way the NHL can keep the end of the regular season more exciting?
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