Why not expand the playoffs again?

The New York Rangers got to play in an expanded playoff format, why not do it again?

When the NHL added the Stanley Cup Qualifier round after the pause last season, the New York Rangers were one of the teams that benefited.  It was supposed to be for only one year, but there are several very good reasons to do it again at least for the coming season.

The single biggest reason to do it is financial.  There is no doubt that the season will start with no fans in the stands.  With the development of COVID-19 vaccines, it’s likely that by the end of the season it will be possible to get fans into arenas, though how many is a question.   With no ticket or concessions revenue for the first part of the season, teams will be taking  a huge financial hit and adding three to five more games will help them immensely.

This shouldn’t be taken lightly.  As long as the league is in financial trouble there will be measures taken that will impact play.  The flat salary cap is a direct result and getting the NHL back to financial health will allow the cap to grow and that is important for all teams including the Rangers.  To be honest, some owners need all the help that they can get.

Another reason to add a Stanley Cup Qualifying round is that it will lessen the impact of the shortened season.  Right now, it looks like the NHL will have a 60 game season.  That means a team that gets off to a hot start will be a sure thing for the playoffs. and that teams that get off to a slow start will be in an impossible position when it comes to making the postseason.

Playing 22 fewer games in the regular season could have a major impact on the final standings and adding a play-in round will mitigate that.   Consider last season for New York.  The Blueshirts won 14 of their last 22 games.  Subtract those 22 games and they had a 23-21-4 record.  That’s a .520 points percentage as opposed to their final percentage of .564.

Other leagues have expanded their postseason schedules.  Major League Baseball went to a 16 team playoff format due to the pandemic.  The NFL is expanding to a 14 team playoff format permanently.  The NBA is sticking to a 16 team limit.

Could it happen?

NHL President Gary Bettman has made it clear that he considered the expanded playoffs a one-time deal.  He has been vocal about his belief that an expanded playoffs would dilute the regular season.   For many years the NHL was ridiculed for allowing so many teams into the post season.  Critics would say “everybody makes the playoffs in the NHL” and they were right.

As recently as 1990-91, when the league had 20 teams, 16 made the playoffs.    In the thirty years since then, the league has added 11 (soon 12) teams and have not increased the number of teams in the postseason.  Maybe it’s time.

With longtime hockey fans already used to a lot of teams in the  playoffs, what would be the downside of adding two more wild card teams per conference?

For now, for the financial well being of the NHL, the league should seriously consider adding a Stanley Cup Qualifier round at least for the coming season.  An expansion of the playoff pool moving forward is also worth consideration.

As for the Rangers, considering their status as a playoff bubble team, giving them a better chance of making the postseason would be a good thing.   A short qualifying round is not guarantee of playoff success as we witnessed last season, but it will make the return to play more exciting for more teams.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment below.