Why the NHL should add a postseason play-in game

December 13, 2016, 9:02 AM

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One, the NHL has no intention of changing its current playoff structure.

"None, whatsoever," said commissioner Gary Bettman.

Two, when it was suggested by an enterprising hockey writer that a play-in game might help stagnating league revenues, well, the commissioner disagreed. Not with the premise that a playoff game would help, but that revenues are stagnating. He even threw in a "with all due respect" to soften the blow.

"It's not stagnating," Bettman said. "It's growing and will continue to grow."

Got it. Everything is great.

And when it comes to the playoffs, he's right. They are great. Stanley Cup playoff hockey is the best postseason in sports. I'll fight to the death on that one.

That's why it's time for more.

Parity is at an all-time high. As teammate Pierre LeBrun likes to say, the standings are like a crushed beer can. At the end of this season, we're going to look at a team that finishes No. 9 in the conference and think that it would have had a really good chance at causing damage in the playoffs.

As of Monday, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars are all outside a playoff spot. A good team is going to miss the postseason, a good team that could win a series or three if it makes it into the field.

It makes the NHL absolutely primed for a play-in game.

Let the No. 8 seed host the No. 9 seed in a game that allows the survivor to enter the big pool. It's not a novel idea.? Detroit Red Wings?GM Ken Holland pitched it in a recent interview with TSN. Let's not forget, this is the guy who gave us 3-on-3 overtime. So let's not just dismiss it.

It's also been a part of baseball since 2012. The play-in game this year between the? San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets?on ESPN was the highest-rated wild-card game ever. It was the most streamed MLB event ever. It had an overnight rating of 5.8. The Stanley Cup finals averaged a 2.3. OK, that was low, but I'm trying to make a point here.

The drama would be irresistible. And it could be a way to get other networks involved and invested in hockey.

Imagine a one-game playoff between? Steven Stamkos' Lightning and Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals, two teams with Stanley Cup aspirations. The current standings suggest it wouldn't be out of the question. Or what about a one-game play-in game between Connor McDavid's? Edmonton Oilers?versus Patrik Laine's? Winnipeg Jets?

People would watch. People would most definitely watch.

Arizona Coyotes?co-owner Anthony LeBlanc certainly has noticed the success in baseball and it has him intrigued.

"I can just look at baseball from a fan's perspective, it keeps people engaged in their team longer. There's a chance they can get that final spot," LeBlanc said. "Our league tends to have some competition coming in for those last couple spots the last couple of weeks, but not always. I kind of like it."

OK, so we have an owner who sounds like he could be on board.

What about the greatest player of all time?

"The more people, the more teams you can get in the playoffs, I think the bigger the recognition for our game gets," Wayne Gretzky told ESPN.com. "I think it's good."

He did add that the league is usually smart about these things. So if they like it, great. If they don't, there might be a reason.

"They're always very reasonable about doing their homework and background checks on what is really good for the game," Gretzky said. "If that's what they decide, great."

Currently, 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs. That's 53 percent of the league. Adding a play-in game in each conference along with Vegas would mean that 58 percent of the NHL could claim a playoff appearance.

Maybe that cheapens the playoffs. Considering the excitement that would go into an annual play-in night, it's worth the trade-off.

At least that's the thought here.


"Random musings don't always turn into reality," Bettman said. "You may think you can create a new reality, but the fact of the matter is we think the structure we have now works extraordinarily well."