Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


NHL Notebook

A play-in for the playoffs Add to ...

The New York Islanders' controversial owner Charles Wang came up with an idea about a play-in game in advance of the annual NHL playoffs that was sure to be rejected by general managers' meetings this past week - and it was. But just because Wang got too fanciful with his suggestion doesn't mean there wasn't some merit to the germ of his idea.

What doomed the proposal - which was officially presented by Islanders' general manager Garth Snow - was that Wang wanted every team outside of the top seven in each conference to salvage a chance at post-season play through a complicated 16-team play-in round that would feature a week-long tournament in each conference. Basically, No. 8 would play No. 15, No. 9 against No. 14 and so on, with a quarter-final, a semi-final and a final round in each conference, just to settle the eighth and final playoff spot.

Sorry, but just too long, too complicated - and it would significantly diminish the value of the NHL's six-month regular season.

What Wang should have done was start in a more modest place, with a single play-in game, No. 8 against No. 9 in each conference, similar to what the NCAA does in its annual college basketball tournament.

Think of it this way: Six times in the four post-lockout seasons, a ninth-place team has missed the playoffs by two or fewer points. In 2009, the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers were actually tied in points with 93 apiece and identical records - 41-30-11 - but the Habs got in on the third tie-breaker, head-to-head results. After a six-month regular season, it would have been fairer to have that final playoff spot decided on the ice, rather than some complicated tie-breaking system.

In 2007, two ninth-placed teams - the Toronto Maple Leafs in the East and the Colorado Avalanche in the West - finished just a single point behind the eighth-place finishers, the Islanders and the Calgary Flames respectively. In 2006, Toronto was ninth as well, two behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nowadays, the races at the bottom are so close for so long that it wouldn't be a bad thing to give a surging ninth-place squad a shot at making the playoffs.

That way, 18 out of 30 teams would effectively have a chance to win the Stanley Cup - or about 60 per cent. In the pre-1967 days of the Original Six, when four of six teams qualified for the playoffs, it meant that 66.6 per cent of teams made the playoffs. Introducing a single play-in game would bring the league closer to its more historical percentages of playoff versus non-playoff teams.

If you added just a single game, you wouldn't need a week to do it - which is the other fatal flaw in Wang's suggestion. A single play-in game could be played within the first 48 hours of the end of the regular season on a Tuesday; and the opening round match-up between the surviving team and the No. 1 seed could start on the Thursday, same as always.

It would create an incentive to finish seventh - to avoid the extra game - but it would also give ninth-placed team that's virtually indistinguishable from No. 8 a chance to decide it on the ice. I like that.

Not sure if Wang dreamed up his proposal because that's what happened at the Olympics this year. After a preliminary round-robin, every team in the tournament still had a chance to play in the gold-medal game, with four teams getting byes in the quarter-finals and eight others needing to come through the qualifying round. In the blush of Sidney Crosby's game-winning overtime goal against the United States in the gold-medal game, it is easy to forget that Canada won the tournament by starting out as a sixth seed and coming through the qualifying round. It didn't seem to diminish or tarnish the victory in any meaningful way either, did it?

WINGS ON THE RISE?: If the Detroit Red Wings miss the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, a primary contributing factor will be their inability to win games in overtime. Detroit is just 6-12 overall in extra time, with eight of the losses coming in shootouts. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins (9) have lost more. The Calgary Flames, Detroit's closest challengers, aren't much better in extra time (5-9, with six of shootout losses), but the Nashville Predators are (8-5), the primary reason they're seventh and still in the thick of the race with two more talented squads. At this past week's general managers meetings, the Blue Jackets' Scott Howson tried to interest his colleagues in changing the NHL's point system and grant 1.5 points for an overtime win instead of the usual two, but sadly, his proposal fell on deaf ears.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular