There’s no question that the NHL Playoffs are the greatest part of every season. An easy argument could be made that the postseason tournament is the best amongst the four major sports. The series format, structure and seeding are nearly perfect with the change back to the divisional format this season.
While there isn’t a thing I’d change about the playoffs in their current form, I’ve wondered recently about an adjustment to the series structure. The idea shuffles the order in which the games are played to not only add value to home ice advantage, but to give the higher seed an extra opportunity to clinch a series on home ice.
The NHL model, as it stands now follows a 2-2-1-1-1 format with the home team hosting games one, two, five and seven. It is far superior to the NBA’s awful, horrible, no good 2-3-2 order that sees the higher seed forced to the road for three straight games. The system that I’m proposing would see the lower seed host the first two games while giving the higher seed four of the final five games.
This format would follow a 2-3-1-1 format with the lower seed hosting games one, two and six and the higher seed playing games three, four, five and seven on home ice. The key is maintaining the structure that makes the NHL playoffs so great while providing an additional benefit to the team with home ice advantage. This system wouldn’t alter the host of the final three games of the series as the higher seed would still host games five and six with the lower seed home for game six. The first four games are where I would focus.
It’s my opinion that game four is the most important of any series. It goes without saying that it’s important should a series stand at 3-0. Why I find it to be so pivotal is because of what it means to a series that stands at 2-1. The team with the lead can take a stranglehold of the series with a win while the team trailing can flip the momentum by tying the series after four games. Based on that thinking doesn’t it make sense to give the higher seed the advantage in such a pivotal game?
It’s obvious that playing at home in game seven is the greatest benefit to holding home ice. However, when it comes to playing other pivotal games I feel like the higher seed should have the ability to play at home. Allowing the higher seed to not only keep games five and seven but to add game provides a slight advantage that is otherwise missing.
The overall concept of home ice advantage is a primary factor behind this idea. While opening a series on the road isn’t necessarily ideal, having the opportunity to host four of the next five games should outweigh any potential drawback that would come with waiting until game three to see home ice. The current format is even in terms of home ice once the first two games pass, the 2-3-1-1 set up gives the higher seed more elimination and swing games in their building. Not only does this benefit the team but it also gives the fans one more chance to see a series locked up at home.
Another reason for this thinking is travel. The benefit is somewhat negligible but it would still decrease travel costs for many of the teams. As of now, teams switch cities three times at the end of a seven game series (games five through seven) and four times over the course of the entire series. My system would cut travel to two travel days at the end of the series and three times over the entire series. It isn’t anything ground breaking but it takes away the every-other-day travel that exists now between games four and seven and keeping the teams settled for longer with three consecutive games played in the same city.
The real beneficiary of this type of system is truly the team that holds the higher seed and that’s the idea. While the high seeds are by no means at a disadvantage under the current system, I think that more weight needs to be placed on the middle of the series as opposed to the beginning. Because of that the higher seed should benefit from that focus.