It certainly seems like an NHL postseason is on the way, as the NHLPA approved continued talks of a 24-team playoff format on Friday. However, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun echoed the sentiment of the NHLPA’s statement when he reported that there are still concerns among the players. This initial vote was merely to continue making progress on the rough format of a 24-team structure, but there are details that still need to be hammered out. Specifically, LeBrun states that the players would prefer re-seeding after each round rather than the proposed bracket format. Further, the players were told that there is still indecision over whether that initial round of teams 5-12 in each conference would be a best-of-five or a best-of-seven series. The NHLPA will need to re-evaluate a final proposal before the league can make any official announcement.
- The idea of re-seeding does seem to be a more balanced and fair system for implementing this playoff structure. As currently proposed, the top seed in each conference would play the No. 8 or No. 9 team in the second round, while any of the other three bye seeds could wind up with an easier match-up following a bye in the first round. Especially if the first round is a best-of-five series, which would be more prone to upsets, the bracket format creates equity concerns. As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox describes, it also de-values the proposed round robin games between the top-four bye teams in each conference. This format is also still to be finalized, but the proposal was that the results of this round robin tournament would determine the seeding of those four bye teams. As Fox notes, if there is no real advantage to having the top seed in the bracket structure then there is not much to fight for in the round robin.
- One of the two teams who voted against the proposed 24-team playoff format was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alex Killorn, the team’s NHLPA rep, spoke with The Athletic’s Joe Smith about the reasons why the team did not support the decision. Killorn stated that his team did not feel that it was fair for teams that likely would not have made the playoffs under the normal circumstances to not only have a shot in this expanded field, but also to have a better chance of moving on with a limited five-game series. Tampa also took issue with the preparedness of the teams who had earned byes, a point that would be emphasized further if – as LeBrun and Fox warn – the bracket system leads to a round robin for the first-round bye teams that lacks real meaning. These are fair points made by Killorn and the Lightning, but it seems that without the details of the playoff structure formalized yet, these concerns could be quelled by seven-game series in the first-round and re-seeding after the round rather than a bracket structure.