Thursday, October 13, 2022

Mailbag: An Auston Matthews trade, play-in rounds, a team chaos rooting guide and more

Are you ready for NHL opening night, part six or whatever we’re up to now? Me too. But in the meantime, let’s get in a quick mailbag before some teams play their third game and we all start forming conclusions that we’ll cling to all season long.

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and style.

MLB’s wild card weekend was fun and the NBA play-in tournament has been a winner. Shouldn’t the NHL follow suit? – Andy B.

Absolutely. The NBA and MLB now both have play-in rounds, and the NFL kind of does too if you count the wildcard weekend. The NHL is the only one of the big four leagues that still has every postseason team start on equal footing.

I’ve made the case for the play-in before, most recently on the podcast with Ian a few weeks back. The NHL should steal the NBA’s format, where the #7 and #8 seeds play each other in a single game with the winner advancing and the loser facing the winner of a showdown between #9 and #10. That means the two higher seeds get two chances to win their way in and only miss if they go 0-for-2, while the task is tougher but not impossible for the lower two teams who each need back-to-back wins.

Today, all that really matters is making the playoffs, since home ice barely has an impact in the playoffs any more and seeding doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes that means we get a “race” like last year’s East, where we knew all eight teams by Christmas and could basically tune out the entire conference until April. Under a play-in format, you’d have more teams in the mix, plus pressure points at eighth (to get the double chance at advancing), sixth (to avoid the play-in altogether), and first and second (to get to play a team that just survived the play-in rather than a rested opponent). I know that some fans don’t want to “expand” the playoffs, so don’t – we can do like the NBA and just say that the play-in as determine who makes the official playoffs, which will still have the same 16 teams it’s had for decades.

It will apparently never happen because Gary Bettman is weird about this. So once again, the NHL will dawdle behind everyone else, and hockey fans will watch all the other sports have more fun than we do while we mumble about tradition.

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