Dear Hockey East,
Please reconsider the new playoff plan you’re implementing next season. Vermont just swept Northeastern in a huge series. Northeastern now heads to UMass on Tuesday for what is essentially a must-win game. Then this coming weekend, UMass hosts Maine in a series that could wind up deciding both teams’ seasons. Why are all these games so important? Because of that race for the eighth and final playoff spot. Because not all of those teams are going to make the postseason.
This is what makes the Hockey East regular season better than the regular season in any other conference. In other leagues, none of those games I just mentioned would be nearly as important. Sure, they might decide seeding, but they wouldn’t decide seasons. I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say that in a league where everyone makes the playoffs, I don’t really care if someone finishes ninth instead of 10th. Home ice in that new first round is something to shoot for, but there’s no way that race will ever be as exciting or as meaningful as a race for the final playoff spot.
I’m not saying you have to stick to the same eight-team format. In fact, I’d be worried that an eight-team playoff in a 12-team league would lead to too many meaningless games at the end of the regular season for the bottom couple teams. A 10-team playoff would be ideal in my opinion. There are several ways to make this work. One would be the old WCHA format, with first-round series pitting 1 vs. 10, 2 vs. 9, etc., followed by a play-in game between the two lowest remaining seeds prior to the semifinals. Another would be having two play-in games pit 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 prior to the quarterfinals.