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Sweet 16

Nicholas Goss explains why he thinks allowing 20 teams to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs is a bad idea:

Having two thirds of the NHL qualify for the playoffs is way too high of a percentage. If additional teams are added, mediocre clubs would have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup that they don't deserve.

Using Goss' rationale, the Los Angeles Kings may very well be the most undeserving Stanley Cup champion of all time.  They scored a mere 194 goals during the regular season, good for 29th in the league.  They were shut out a total of nine times (six of those losses were by a 1-0 margin).  They had only one player top the 60-point mark.

With 95 points, the Kings snuck into the playoffs as an eighth seed, setting franchise records for offensive ineptness in the process.  But while Los Angeles won't be remembered as the most exciting team in NHL history, their post-season performance, which included the ousting of the top three seeds in the Western Conference, was one of the most dominant in recent memory.  In the minds of most observers, the Kings are a worthy champion.

Low-seeded teams have been making lengthy playoff runs for years.  The 1991 Minnesota North Stars remain the most striking example of how an underachieving hockey club can catch fire in the post-season.  Despite posting a horrific regular season record of 27-39-14, the North Stars came within two games of winning the Stanley Cup that year, setting a playoff record for power play goals that stands to this day (35). 

A convincing argument can be made against adding four teams to the NHL's playoff mix.  In all fairness, Goss lists a number of other factors to support his opinion.  But his case is weakened because he tries to draw an arbitrary line between teams deserving of a playoff birth and clubs that are undeserving. 

It's a stretch to claim a 15th seed is any more worthy of a playoff spot than a 20th seed, especially in a day and age where very few points separate the two teams in question.  Parity is rampant in pro hockey, and when it comes right down to it, a 20th seed is probably just as likely to make an unexpected march to the finals as any other low-seeded squad. 

Hockey is a random sport in which inexplicable things happen on a regular basis.  As a result, justice is sometimes not served.  A hockey team can outshoot its opponent 50 to 15 and still lose by a score of 2-1.  Does that mean the winning team is undeserving of its victory?  Most people would probably say yes. 

But what if that same hockey team won 16 games by a score of 2-1, despite being badly outshot in each contest, en route to the Stanley Cup?  The majority of fans would probably overlook the fact that the winning club was outplayed every night, choosing instead to focus on its timely scoring and stellar goaltending.  The narrative would change because most people believe winning 16 games in the spring is an achievement that only a Stanley Cup champion is capable of, regardless of how it's done.

The fact is there is no good reason to add four more teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs.  But there's also no good reason to maintain the status quo.  Many fans like the idea of having 16 teams qualify for the post-season simply because that's the way its been for decades.  16 just "feels" like the right number to separate deserving playoff teams from their inferior brethren.  In reality, this position makes no sense because it's completely arbitrary. 

In football, 12 teams make the playoffs.  In baseball, 10 teams qualify for the post-season.  The NHL invites 16 teams to the big dance.  There's absolutely no rhyme or reason for such discrepancies.  But no matter how a champion is determined, the bottom line is that the winner of a playoff tournament is always heralded for its accomplishment.  Whether a team finished the regular season first or 15th in the league and regardless of which opponents were slayed along the way, a post-season victor is always applauded and recognized for its excellence.

It's impossible to determine which team will be deserving of these accolades in advance.  And while increasing the number of playoff qualifiers would make it even more difficult for the so-called experts to predict a Stanley Cup champion, it would certainly enhance the potential for future post-season surprises. 

Filed in: | Tasca's Take | Permalink



Does that mean the winning team is undeserving of its victory?  Most people would probably say yes.

Please tell me you don’t honestly believe that…  Any idiot can tell you that getting more shots on goal doesn’t mean your team is better than the other team.

Posted by Garth on 01/03/13 at 08:53 AM ET

Chris from NOHS's avatar

Garth,  Mikael Samuelson does not agree…

Posted by Chris from NOHS from Denver CO on 01/03/13 at 08:55 AM ET

LivinLaVidaLockout's avatar

There needs to be some balancing of making both the playoffs and the regular season interesting.  By adding continually more teams to the playoff picture, you run the risk of devaluing an already-long 82-game regular season.

Posted by LivinLaVidaLockout on 01/03/13 at 10:04 AM ET


Think like an owner.

Ignore the need for integrity in your playoffs, and what you see is a money grab for the organization with more playoff games.

Again, refer back to last year’s playoffs, and the almost bankrupt finalist.

Since NHL players don’t get paid during playoffs, the Devils kept the lion’s share of those earnings


Posted by Cubanpuckstopper on 01/03/13 at 10:16 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Any number of teams to have in the playoffs is somewhat arbitrary, so I’m not sure that is relevant to the discussion.

The Kings were remarkable in the playoffs—one of the best playoff runs that has occurred in my lifetime. So, let’s just get that out of the way… nothing I am about to say is intended as a slight to the Kings or Kings fans.

There is something to be said about the regularity with which we have seen lower seeded teams have playoff success since the early ‘00s. Certainly, it is what makes playoff hockey the most exciting form of sport in the world. But it is also something that sort of dilutes the credibility of the game when it happens too much.

When you have teams that play 82 games (a large sample, with at least one game against each team), amass 50 wins, 105 points, rank highly in PP and PK efficiency, and post a large, positive goal differential—these are the best teams in the game that given year. They got out there and showed it over a large sample size. Most years, these are the teams I really want to see facing off in the conference finals and for the Stanley Cup, because these are the teams that sustained success over a long haul and showed that they are truly the best the game has to offer in that season.

More often than not, I want the Bruins vs. Canucks or Penguins vs. Red Wings. These are the teams that most deserve to be there and are most likely to provide the highest level of competition (barring significant injuries to key players, of course).

But to be sure, it is great every once in a while to have a team like the Kings come out of their funk right at the end of the season, and blow everyone away. That is a nice twist, but it shouldn’t be the main plot line. Additionally, the Kings were special in that they were a team with undeniable talent all over the roster—their poor offensive performance was very confusing and unexpected all season long. So, in that sense, the Kings winning the Cup last season feels a lot more just, and produced a lot better hockey than some of the seasons where we had very average teams like the Oilers or the above-mentioned North Stars making it all the way to the finals.

Expanding to 20 teams would add to this problem.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 01/03/13 at 10:34 AM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.