Under the NHL's current format, 16 -- or more than half of the league's 31 teams -- qualify for the playoffs each season. According to a report by The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, there is a consensus among general managers that "it makes more sense than ever to increase the pool of teams who get in." So we asked our roundtable of experts:
Should the NHL expand its playoff field?
Greg Wyshynski, senior writer: No! (I'll save you the anguish of having to scroll through my cutting and pasting that answer several thousand times, but let it be known that the point is made that emphatically.)
Sixteen teams is ideal. We can play around with format and seeding, but we don't need more. Having half the league make the postseason is significantly more generous than Major League Baseball (10 of 30), the NFL (12 of 32) and NCAA men's basketball (68 of 351). Expanding the playoffs would make an already laborious regular-season schedule seem even less vital. The thought of "play-in" games for playoff seeds would cheapen the glorious war of attrition that is waged through four rounds. The only motivations for expanding the playoffs are more dumb parity, craven avarice for additional revenue streams, satiation of broadcasting partners and to prolong the employment of coaches and executives. None of these are good reasons to try to improve on perfection.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Ever since the 1979-80 season, the Stanley Cup playoffs have included 16 teams. Here's the problem: 38 years ago, the NHL only had 21 clubs. Now there are 31 -- which is likely to become 32 soon. I'm all for adapting with the times, though I feel the past three-plus decades have been one big correction for a wild injustice. Please find me the person who signed off on more than 75 percent of teams making the postseason.
That said, I endorse an idea that's been floating around for some time: introduce an NHL wild-card [round]. Twenty teams make the playoffs. The top 12 teams get to rest for a few days after the regular season. In the meantime, the final eight teams face off in four single-elimination play-in games. Win or go home. We'll begin this format when Seattle officially joins the league in 2020-21. The Stanley Cup playoffs are the most captivating postseason in sports, and, I assure you, this tweak will not water down the product. You can still view it through the lens of a 16-team tournament -- with some added entertainment value of must-win games (a la March Madness). Which, of course, earns the league a few extra bucks. What's not to love?
Chris Peters, NHL prospects writer: While I'm intrigued by the possibilities of a best-of-three or single-elimination game, it just feels like fluff before the main course. The only thing I'd change is to get rid of the divisional playoff format and go back to the straight seeding format, but even that isn't a huge complaint. The Stanley Cup playoffs have been a thing the NHL gets right just about every year. It's the best hockey of the year and grabs you by the first round, shakes you around for a few weeks, and by the end of the two-month ordeal, you need a long nap. That's the way it should be.
I don't really want to waste any time getting to the good stuff right away. The baseball play-in games just feel anticlimactic even if a few more fan bases get a few days to celebrate their team making the playoffs, or at least getting a seat at the end of the postseason table. I'm usually not one to say, "this is how it's been done for years, and it's fine the way it is," but ... this is how it's been done for years, and it's pretty great as is.
Chris Sprow, deputy editor: Terrible idea. Are we trying to professionalize participation trophies? Over 50 percent of the league already makes the field, the highest total of any professional sport. This just incentivizes bad regular-season hockey and rewards bad teams, coaches and GMs. (I'd expect coaches and GMs to love this idea. "Fire me? But I made the playoffs!") There's a lot of randomness in hockey -- which is why they play 82 freaking games to weed out the dreck and give us a decent playoff field, and many would argue that group is already too big. Don't double down.
Now ... if someone will cut a yearly $1 billion check to televise "The 31-Team NHL Playoff Extravaganza" across the solar system, let's talk.