Lacing Up: Let The Losers Play
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: Josh, I feel like we dodged a bullet a few weeks back when the NHL announced that no changes would be made to the current playoff format (top eight teams from each conference duke it out in best-of-seven series). As you know, there was some talk that 18 or maybe even 20 teams could make the playoffs. At that point, why not just invite all 30 teams?
But as I type this, details of a drastically reinvented playoff format are emerging out of Russia, where the KHL plans to have a losers bracket. Here’s how it works: teams that didn’t make the postseason will be invited to participate in a tournament for a prize. The prize, though vague, appears to include money and a first round draft pick (possibly as high as #1 overall).
This “Hope Cup” tournament, as it’s being called, isn’t necessarily a new idea, but one we haven’t seen in professional sports. Obviously, the idea is to keep fans from non-playoff cities interested in hockey for a longer period of time by giving them semi-meaningful games to watch. At first glance, it’s an intriguing idea. What are your initial thoughts?
Joshua Neal: Definitely something to think about, Matt. One thing’s for sure, competition keeps people interested. The stakes are obviously pretty high when something like a first round draft pick is what’s on the line.
Spicing things up is probably something at top of mind when discussing the KHL, who just lost about 50% of the talent playing in the league with the revival of the NHL season and training camp a few weeks ago. This is an interesting way for them to choose to do so.
Perhaps this plan was something that was already in the works before the exodus of NHL players back to North America, or perhaps everyone knew all along that that very exodus would be happening. Needless to say, it’s certainly something to think about that has a reverberating impact on their league as a whole.
Matt: Considering the NHL already was thinking of a playoff tweak to get more teams involved, that might not be the worst idea. Think about it. Currently, we have a draft lottery where a ping pong ball determines who gets the first overall draft pick. What if the bottom six teams played in a mini-tournament that runs parallel to the Stanley Cup Playoffs to determine the draft order among the teams? This would be more exciting than a ping pong ball lottery drawing and would encourage teams to play hard to earn a quality draft pick.
I wonder, though, what would happen with the other eight teams who are in limbo between the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the “Loser’s Cup” playoffs? Maybe this expands to include all 14 teams not in the big show, but prohibits anyone higher than the bottom six to win the first overall pick? I’m just thinking out loud here, but the point, I think, is that this idea might have more merit than expanding the true playoff pool.
Josh: I like the current 16-team format too much to want to adjust it, so I think we’re on the same page there. I think that if I were in charge and a system like this had to be adapted, I’d include all 14 teams, but also keep elements of the lottery in place as well.
Here’s an idea – a round robin tournament between those 14 teams under current rules. Each team would start with a progressive number of chances for the #1 pick weighted higher within the last place teams and much lower among the teams to just miss the playoffs.
In winning a game, a team can gain one of its defeated opponent’s chances at their pick. Thus, there could be some shuffling around in the draft order. Even if a team that just barely missed the playoffs can’t get the first overall pick, they can move up in the draft order by playing well in this “Loser’s Cup.”
Maybe this is a bit too harsh. I know I’m tired of watching the same 4 teams in line for the 1st overall pick each year though, so a shake up is welcome. What do you think, Matt?
Matt: I think it’s a unique idea. It keeps hockey being played in cities where it otherwise would end after 82 games. I guess a negative side would be that, for losing teams’ fans, 82 games is enough torture to endure. Expanding that to a playoff could be cruel and unusual punishment. Another way to look at it is that, in many cases, losing teams have smaller fan bases that diminish as the losing persists. Will a “Loser’s Cup” draw enough fans to justify the money spent to produce it?
At the very least, Josh, I feel as though the draft lottery needs fixed. This option puts the draft picks in the hands of the teams, rather than pure luck. A lot of planning would have to go into such an endeavor, but it might be worth it. Things to consider: will these games be televised nationally or locally? Remember, they’d be head-to-head with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. How long will each round last? How many teams get invited? How many teams truly have the ability to earn the first overall draft pick?
If these questions — and undoubtedly dozens of others — can be answered, this might be an option for 2013-14. Then again, this is the NHL, and nothing gets done in a timely (or logical) manner, so I assume something like this never will happen.
Josh: We can’t even get Winnipeg out of the Eastern Conference! It’s like we’re asking for the sky by adding more complication into the system. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea, but I think that right now we just have to feel lucky for having hockey on television and in arenas around the nation.
However, I think your point here does tie to that. If this league’s expansion teams and outlying areas (that Bettman fought so hard to create) can’t support a hockey market for reasons like a lack of competitive ability each year, this could be one way to begin to inject some life and energy to those cities and their teams.
Giving a fan something to be interested in beyond the season, perhaps bringing a big ticket draft pick to a town that otherwise wouldn’t get that opportunity could really help turn a city and its franchise around.