Whenever — if ever — the NHL reboots its 2019-20 season out of the current coronavirus shutdown, it appears league owners have three targets.
1. Award a Stanley Cup after a representative version of a playoff
2. Play as many remaining scheduled home dates as humanly possible
3. Don’t truncate the 82-game season next year as a result of any contingency plans made this year
Those are all noble goals. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to make all three happen. In fact the scouting combine, awards ceremony and draft have all been postponed.
My idea has always been to automatically qualify the top three teams from each division for the playoffs, as is currently the case. Then stage two play-in series per conference to determine the wild cards.
They’d be best-of-three. The current 7th seed versus the current 10th seed, and the 8th seed versus the 9th seed. Hold the games at neutral sites and split the pot. Or divvy up the revenue but let the better-seeded teams host all three games to minimize travel.
For those that fall out of the top 10 in each conference or those that didn’t get to host playoff games in the top eight, I’m sure some sort of revenue-sharing package can be cooked up within the league office. Just balance the financial intake to assuage the losses of franchises who didn’t qualify for the postseason and lost out on remaining regular-season home games.
Everybody is going to have to take a hit for the good of the league.
But some within the NHL seem to want to charge down whatever avenue exists to play as often as possible. The goal would be to generate the most revenue, at all costs, instead of sharing what is most easily procured.
That brings us to the nuttiest idea that has been floated out so far.
Craig Custance of The Athletic reports that a notion advanced by at least one franchise amounts to a “losers playoff bracket.”
OK. I’ll make it more politically correct. A “consolation bracket.”
The idea essentially is that any team that doesn’t qualify for the playoffs would take part in a secondary bracket where the winner gets the No. 1 overall draft pick.
In other words, backwards of how we have always seen North American pro drafts work. Now you’re trying to win your way to the top draft slot, not lose your way there.
Hey, it’s a great way to prevent tanking. Too bad for fans in Detroit that the notion is being introduced 71 games into the Red Wings’ disastrous 39-point season.
Imagine enduring that dreadful display of hockey with the hopes of getting the best odds to select star prospect Alexis Lafreniere. Then you see a decent team like the New York Islanders or Rangers get him because of this half-baked idea.
Granted, the plan has some merits.
• All the non-playoff teams would have the same opportunity to create postseason gate revenue as the playoff teams do, so gates wouldn’t have to be split.
• Additional TV time and revenue would be created.
• Individual market fan interest would be extended to cities that otherwise would’ve put the NHL on the back burner.
• Players in the “consolation bracket” would avoid a potential eight-month dead period, versus those in the Stanley Cup Finals having a scant six-week offseason.
Unfortunately, the idea is flawed on numerous levels, too.
• Winning the first overall pick is clear. That goes to the “consolation champion.”
Who gets the No. 2 pick, though? The “runner up” from the other conference? And how do we break ties from there for third and fourth place? Based on games won in the conference final? Or games lost?
I’m already confused.
• Does that draft order maintain throughout only the first round? Or the entire draft?
In other words, if Detroit loses in the first round of the consolation bracket, do the Wings have to pick in the middle of every round? Or do we revert back to regular season records in Rounds 2-7 so they can be at the top after the first round ends?
• Are they playing for the actual first overall pick? Or just the best odds for the best pick?
• What about teams that have already traded away their first round pick? Are they required to participate anyway?
• Are teams really going to want to expose their best players to injury for a tournament like this?
• If I’m about to be an unrestricted free agent on the Minnesota Wild, for instance, what is my motivation to bust my butt to help them win this tournament so they can get the top overall pick? Only for me to leave via free agency after the year is done and play against that guy in a different uniform.
Meanwhile, let’s not forget the small matter of money for the players. While players don’t get paid for playoff games in the NHL, there is a pool of money to be split at the end of the season. The Penguins reportedly got more than $4 million to split among the players for winning the Stanley Cup in 2017. The Predators players got $2.6 million for losing in the finals.
Overall, the NHL set aside $15 million for the full playoff pool that year. Whatever they pay to keep players interested in the consolation tournament likely won’t be much of an incentive at all when it is eventually split among the clubs.
Especially when you consider this tournament is a Hail Mary to avoid losing money in the first place.
The U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill to buoy the American economy in the wake of the nationwide coronavirus shutdowns.
If those knuckleheads on both sides of the aisle can come together on something as massive as that in such a short amount of time, one would think the leaders of 31 NHL teams could similarly figure out how to save roughly 10 games of a hockey regular season.
Or at least set up a playoff bracket and a corresponding revenue-sharing plan off of that postseason for those that are left out.
The stimulus package isn’t perfect but it’s what is needed right now. And it can’t be overcomplicated to make it fair for everyone.
That’s what this “draft bracket” idea would be doing to hockey. Overcomplicating things. So the NHL shouldn’t give it further consideration.
The NHL needs to follow the path of the U.S. Senate.
Was that as hard for you to read as it was for me to type?
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