The day after what would have been Bill Veeck’s 106th birthday – look him up on Google, kids – news came out that Major League Baseball recently had a meeting with its Players’ Association to discuss adding teams to the playoffs and a scheme in which higher-seeded playoff teams would choose their first-round opponents in a reality-style television event.
Cool. You go, baseball. Fourteen of 30 teams making the playoffs would simply elevate baseball to the level of the other three North American professional sports when it comes to post-season participation. And hey, it would give more teams the opportunity to play for a chance to shower each other with beer after achieving an accomplishment akin to winning a first-round playoff series. So there’s that.
It’s just that when things like this happen, people get, you know, ideas. Really dumb ones like messing with the playoff format in the NHL, which happens to be the best in all of professional sports. There was a time when an absurd 16 of 21 teams made the post-season in the NHL. That was between 1979 when the league absorbed four teams from the World Hockey Association and continued until the San Jose Sharks joined the league in 1991. In those 12 years, no team that had ever finished lower than seventh overall went on to win the Stanley Cup. Then the league started expanding and expanding some more. But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the board of governors elected to hold the line on the number of playoff teams. So when Seattle joins the league to become the 32nd team, exactly half the teams will make the playoffs and half won’t.
The NHL has hit on a system that isn’t perfect, but it is outstanding. The first two rounds of the NHL playoffs are every bit as compelling and chaotic as March Madness. And once teams get through that, they come to the realization that they’re only halfway to realizing the dream of winning a Stanley Cup. You know how they say the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win in professional sports? They’re right.