Friend Of Every Blog, and Hockey Twitter's elder in chief, Bob McKenzie had an interesting mailbag today where he asks NHL general managers about the possibility of expanding the playoff picture. I recommend you read (or at least skim) that article before going forward, but the long-short of it is this: 16 of 28 general managers voted "yes" in an informal poll to the following question:
Yes or No to a "Play In" single-game elimination to determine the final wild card spot in each conference?
That is, the team holding down the final wild card spot after 82 games would have to play host to a single-game elimination against the next closest team in the standings. Winner claims the final playoff spot; loser goes home.
If you want to better visualize it, two years ago the Detroit Red Wings in the East and Dallas Stars in the West would have had to host a single-game elimination against the Washington Capitals (three points behind Detroit) and Arizona Coyotes (two points behind Dallas), respectively, for the right to play their way into the playoffs on the day or two after the end of the regular season.
Last year, for example, Pittsburgh would have had to play Boston (two points behind Pittsburgh) in the "Play In" game and Winnipeg would have had to play Los Angeles (four points behind Winnipeg).
There's some variance in the responses (some wanted a play-in series of three games, etc.) but the overwhelming majority of general managers seem to think that not enough teams make the playoffs every year. Yes, the guys whose careers are made or broken on making the playoffs want to increase their odds. Surprise, surprise. Yes, the sport where over 50-damn-percent of the teams in the league make the playoffs want to ADD more teams to the dance.
Let's start with adding more teams to the playoffs: Noop. General managers used parity in the NHL as a reason for more spots being added, shit, they lamented how tight the races are. The complaint boils down to "bleeccchhh regular season hockey is dumb let's do playoff hockey instead!" Which, okay, sure. Playoff hockey is awesome, but it's awesome in part because we don't get 82 games of it.
Assuming a pair of expansion teams are added in the next 5-10 years, and assuming the NHL rebalances its conferences, 16 teams making the playoffs should still be good enough.
Now, about these stupid play-in games...
I know this comes down to personal preference, so I'll give you mine. Sports need to be two things, at their core: 1) Fair and 2) Fun. In that order. Play-in games can be fun and they can be exciting, but they're also unfair as MLB presents them. In McKenzie's scenario, can you imagine being a better team (by points) than the team below you (who shouldn't be in the playoffs) and instead of being rewarded with a seven-game series you're punished by having to play a No. 9 seed?
Get real. In a sport as luck-driven as hockey, where bounces absolutely can decide entire series, there's no reason to whittle the sample size down any further. The NHL playoffs are incredibly exciting as they stand and don't need the help of added unfairness to make them more so. Hockey doesn't need an expanded playoff field, but it absolutely doesn't need any play-in games.
Let the regular season mean something, please.