What changes would you make to the playoff format?
Pierre LeBrun: A divisional playoff format is what is needed, so bring back the 1980s. Today's format is like being "sort of pregnant:" sort of divisional, but sort of conference-based because of the wild card and the possibility of crossover. It makes no sense. Just make it so the top four teams in each division qualify, No. 4 plays No. 1, No. 2 versus No. 3, etc. That format fosters unbelievable rivalries over the course of time because you play the same teams in the opening two rounds. Remember the old playoff battles in the Adams, Patrick, Smythe and Norris Divisions? One of the groups talked this week at the general managers' meetings about the idea of a wild-card play-in game between the eighth- and ninth-place teams in the conference. It has been talked about before. And with a 31st team coming into the league for next season, it makes sense to expand the playoff field.
Rob Vollman: I'd love to see non-NHL teams compete for the Stanley Cup, much as they did before 1926. How about reserving two of the four wild-card spots for European teams, which would be selected in an annual super series between league champions? These teams might not get very far -- or maybe they would add an exciting international element. The Stanley Cup has come a long way since it was first commissioned for amateur Ontario and Quebec teams, and now it's time to take it even further.
Corey Pronman: I want to see fewer teams in the playoffs. I'd prefer four teams per conference, but I am willing to bend to have two extra wild-card teams play the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in a five-game series. I don't want to see Alex Ovechkin and the star-studded Washington Capitals play a seven-game series against the New York Islanders or the Florida Panthers or the Toronto Maple Leafs. I want the playoffs to be about star teams vs. star teams. Because of the nature of hockey, one bad play and the series turns upside down. It's great for drama, it sells, but for me I want to see juggernauts be a) rewarded for their regular season and b) involved in the highest level of competition to maximize the entertainment value.
Scott Burnside: There is only one way to align the playoffs to reward the league's best teams. And after all, isn't that the whole point of a playoff, to have a system that ultimately allows for the best teams to face each other at the end? I'm not advocating a 1-16 format, given the travel issues and overall weirdness we saw with that. But the simple and only right answer is to go with a 1-8, 2-7, etc., matchup in each conference. That way a team like the Montreal Canadiens, which would be fifth today in the Eastern Conference, doesn't get home-ice advantage in the first two rounds, which would be the case under the current setup (unless they get dumped in the first round by the New York Rangers, who will finish with more points but who will be relegated to a wild-card role and have to cross over, thanks to the misguided system now in place). The Capitals should be rewarded for their superlative play by facing the worst team in the playoffs and then the next worst team in the second round, and so on. Why should they have to play the Pittsburgh Penguins or Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round? It's ridiculous. The fans think so and, trust me, the players -- at least players on good teams -- hate the current format too.
Joe McDonald: Listen, there's nothing better in all of professional sports than the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's the most difficult championship to win. Parity is good, but postseason rivalries would be incredible to experience and watch every spring. I just remember those unforgettable playoff battles between the Canadiens and Boston Bruins in the 1980s. That playoff format was perfect for rivalries like that. It drives me crazy that the better team could miss the postseason because of the division it's in. Many fans I've spoken with agree that the current format should be tweaked.