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NHL : Expansion and series format… the NBA and MLB in the vanguard
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot

The talk of the town this week was undoubtedly the transfer of the Arizona Coyotes to Québ… Salt Lake City (sorry, that one was too easy) and the rumours of the NHL increasing the number of teams from 32 to 36 in the next few years. In short, Roadrunner Bettman was tired of having to quietly fall into the Grand Canyon the Arizona Coyote; a bad cartoon ended.

Eliminated from the spring tournament, much to the sensory dismay of our legendary Max Truman, who misses the smell of the playoffs in Montreal, the Habs captain told us that he sees the spring tournament in 2025 in his rear-view mirror.

Object are closer than they appear … Really? Is the Habs really on the verge of an end-of-season playoff appearance?

Isthe new playoff format already obsolete?
It’s already been 10 seasons since the NHL changed the playoff format with 30 teams in its portfolio. Although I wasn’t in favor of the change at first, I have to admit that it has made the playoff race more dynamic and the intra-division games even more important and therefore more interesting. However, with the increase from 30 to 32 teams (Seattle and Vegas), parity and the difficulty for certain markets to participate in the playoffs have intensified. Rebuilds can stretch and fan patience can push some of the more financially fragile franchises over the edge. I don’t want to talk about the Coyotes here ….

Before thinking about adding teams to Houston, Atlanta, Kansas City and a new team in Canada (I’ll leave you to speculate here), the NHL should start reviewing its playoff format now. And in my opinion, the answer lies in the other professional leagues.

NBA and MLB a better format
Despite no expansion for a very long time, both MLB (in 2012) and the NBA (2020) have revised their series formats. MLB began with an ultimate playoff game to give access to the divisional series. This allowed small/medium-sized markets such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Rays to participate in a playoff round, thus creating hype in those cities. These franchises have become increasingly competitive, attracting big names for subsequent regular seasons.

The NBA, for its part, has created a mini-tournament that has boosted team and league revenues, despite the fact that the latter were already astronomical compared to the NHL. It’s part of the NBA’s culture to change things quickly, to adapt to public demand. The league’s audience is young, and it constantly manages to renew it.

The NHL must not wait
In order to develop its product, the NHL must adapt quickly. Despite its conservative nature, the NHL will have to rethink its playoff format, in order to get its head behind the eclipse of the NBA playoffs, which are taking place at the same time, for the American market. And it can’t wait!

Even if the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2032, and expansion doesn’t come for another 3 or 4 seasons, the Bettman circuit must look elsewhere to entrench or allow certain franchises to benefit from the additional playoff revenues.

My suggestion!
To keep the NHL columns from shaking too much, I suggest adopting the Wild Card model used by the MLB in its early days. That is, an ultimate playoff game between the top four teams drafted in the East and West to determine which (4) will make the playoffs. This year, it would be the following:

Pittsburgh vs Tampa Bay
Detroit vs Washington

Minnesota vs Nashville
St-Louis vs Las Vegas

We’ll see about creating a mini-tournament later!

Do we think the Habs could benefit from this series format in the short term? It would allow Glorieux fans to see real progress in Gorton and Hughes’ five-year plan. It could also create and/or intensify certain rivalries in the league. All to galvanize playoff hype.

Why not take advantage of the end of the Canadiens’ contract to allow broadcasters to justify this investment and thus implement this new format? With a 34-36-team league, this change is mandatory, if not essential to the league’s development.

What do you think?

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